Pola X (1999)

“Be careful! You dream of writing a mature work, but your charm lies in your thorough immaturity. You dream of setting fire to God knows what, of rising above your times like a dazzling cloud, leaving everyone terrified and admiring. But you weren’t born for that, Pierre! You don’t even believe it yourself.”

‘Pola X’, directed by Leos Carax in 1999, is a French drama starring Guillaume Depardieu and Yekaterina Golubeva as Pierre and Isabelle, a brother and sister who after years apart, discover one another and embark on a relationship. Pierre is a novelist, working on his second book after the first, published pseudonymously, is a run-away success. When Isabelle comes into his life he is living with his mother, played by Catherine Deneuve, in a castle and engaged to Lucie. His romance draws him to Paris, where he spirals down into poverty and illness. It’s a dark film, lacking many of the surreal but uplifting elements of Carax’s earlier ‘Les Amants du Pont-Neuf’ and his later (and sublime) ‘Holy Motors’. Here, the descent of Pierre into an almost Victorian industrial dystopia from a Panglossian idyll is both disturbing and sobering. It’s a movie that moves from Fellini to Tarkovsky, with even the quality of the film seeming to degrade through the course of it. All this clearly supports the narrative, of course. Pierre and Isabelle’s romance is presented as inevitable but doomed, each character inextricably connected to the other, but also inextricably on the path to self-destruction. It’s not an easy film to like, although there are touched of brilliance, not least a musical interval similar to the accordion interlude in ‘Holy Motors’. The performances, particularly that of Depardieu, are brave and committed, Depardieu uses his own disability (a dodgy knee) to serve his character’s collapse.

Would I recommend it? Maybe – but I’d watch ‘Holy Motors’ straight after as an antidote.

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