Pola X

on May 12, 1999 by Lael Loewenstein
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   "Pola X" is in many ways a quintessentially French film. Long, opaque and largely inscrutable to American audiences, it's a bizarre, psychologically complex film that never rises to the promise of director Leos Carax's critically praised (but financially disastrous) "Les Amants du Pont Neuf (Lovers on the Bridge)." Carax's first feature since that 1992 film, "Pola X" is the story of Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu), young, wealthy and living in the country in an opulent chateau with his mother (Catherine Deneuve), the widow of a diplomat. But on the verge of marriage to his longtime sweetheart Lucie (Delphine Chuillot), Pierre's life is suddenly disrupted by the appearance of a ghostly figure: a mournful, pale, dark-haired girl (Katerina Golubeva) who announces in a mysterious slavic accent that she is his sister Isabelle, abandoned as a child. Believing-crazily enough-her every word, Pierre decides to run away with her, promising protection from further harm and neglect. That chance encounter causes him to renounce his mother, his inheritance and his fiancee-in short, everything to do with his bourgeois lifestyle. What's more, Pierre, a successful writer, abandons his commercial novels to become a "true" destitute artist in the city.

   Carax has covered some of this territory before, particularly the themes of alienation, integrity in artistic suffering, the inherent value of simplicity and poverty. But he fails to make a convincing case for that lifestyle choice. Pierre's descent into poverty, and simultaneously into madness, as portrayed by Depardieu simply comes off as misguided, self-indulgent and foolish. While the young Depardieu has done good work before ("Les Affranchis"), he's a long way from the emotional range or depth of his father Guillaume. That he should so resemble his father only makes the contrast more apparent and ultimately more annoying.

   The film is full of juxtapositions: the radiant blonds (Deneuve, Chuillot, Depardieu) vs. the dour, black haired Isabelle; soft classical music accompanying the country scenes vs. cacophonous heavy metal music in the urban scenes; the gentle nature of early love scenes vs. graphic, disturbing sex scenes late in the movie. Despite being beautifully filmed, at times visually poetic, "Pola X" never quite makes the connection.    Starring Guillaume Depardieu, Katerina Golubeva and Catherine Deneuve. Directed by Leos Carax. Written by Leos Carax, Lauren Sedofsky and Jean-Pol Fargeau, based on the story by Herman Melville. Produced by Bruno Peresy. A Winstar release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 134 min.

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