Review

Dance drama 'Polina' transcends its flat story through the magic of movement

“Polina,” a dance movie based on a graphic novel, reaches a gorgeous crescendo in its final sequence: The title character (screen newcomer Anastasia Shevtsova), having taken a few detours from her presumed career path in classical ballet, steps into the spotlight as a choreographer. The work she has created fuses imagery from her Russian childhood with electronic music, and like several of the film’s dance scenes, it’s far more compelling than the surrounding drama.

Directed by Valérie Müller (who also scripted) and renowned choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, this portrait of the artist as a young ballerina is stubbornly uninvolving for long stretches, but it can also be stirringly cinematic. The first inkling of Polina’s true calling is an exuberant improvised dance by the tween girl, well played by Veronika Zhovnytska (though, distractingly, she and Shevtsova look nothing alike). Walking past the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, she lets her inner hip-hopper emerge.

Polina’s acceptance into the Bolshoi Academy is a dream come true for her working-class parents. They’re anguished when she instead heads to France to study with an exacting modernist (Juliette Binoche, drawing on her own dance experience).

The film touches persuasively on tender parent-child tensions, but Shevtsova, until recently a dancer with the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, doesn’t quite pierce the narrative’s two-dimensionality. Through Preljocaj’s ecstatic choreography, though, she goes deep, and Polina’s story finds its language and its pulse.

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‘Polina’

In Russian and French with English subtitles

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles

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