Pola X


Pola X Review

When I left the theater, an angry woman was berating her boyfriend for dragging her to another one of those films, to which I assume she meant a pompous French soap opera. Furthermore, she didn't understand what the title had to do with anything. Seems she didn't read the press release, which the theater was kind enough to dole out. Pola X is a French acronym of the Hermann Melville novel on which this film is based (and shakily updated to modern times): Pierre, Or, the Ambiguities. The X stands for the tenth draft of the screenplay which writer/director Leos Carax completed.

While the title, Pola X, certainly has a nice ring to it, it stands representative of everything Carax's movie is: all flash, pointless trickery, grating snobbery and, ultimately, no more substance than a private joke only one person finds amusing.

As with most soap operas, the lead character, Pierre (lanky Guillaume Depardieu, son of Gerard) is an affluent, slightly tormented and wholly beautiful young writer who stays with his Oedipal mother, Marie (Catherine Deneuve, adding a touch of elegance) on her lavish estate near the banks of the Seine. He is happy enough riding around on his motorcycle through the countryside, sitting on the hills, and enjoying sunsets with his fiancée (Delphine Chuillot) while living the life of a spoiled dilettante.

The cinematography by Eric Gautier is luscious, painted in golden sunsets and the rich creamy whites of sheets and elegant tablecloths. As Pierre and his mother coast through their lazy days, there's comfort to be found in the crisp images of a fine chateau, or freshly trimmed grass being watered by ominous sprinklers. This beauty gives way to a bleak, bleached, Dickensian look when Pierre encounters a homeless stranger (Yekaterina Golubyova) with a haunted expression in her eyes and a thick Russian accent. This simple woman claims to be his sister, Isabelle.

In the longest scene in the film, the one which director Leos Carax claims inspired him to shoot Pola X, this mysterious woman leads Pierre deep into a fairy tale inspired by some tangled wood and spins a long, slow dramatic monologue about her life of misery and squalor. Golubyova's slow, mannered delivery was difficult to follow and my attention continually wavered, but the plot thankfully marched on thereafter.

To right the wrongs of his father, Pierre abandons his old life and runs away with Isabelle to a life of filthy hovels, dirty apartments, and art communes with a strange John Zorn-experimental rock group in a cavernous warehouse. They are accompanied by a vagrant mother, her precocious "cute" little daughter (who tells passers-by that they stink -- ain't it cute?) and Scott Walker's rousing score of lush violins.

"All my life," he whispers with vigor, "I've waited for something that would push me beyond all this." Feeling as though he has never had any true experiences in life, he throws himself into writing his Great Book of Truths while sleeping with Isabelle in extended, fleshy sex scenes. The body doubles are working overtime, as Leos Carax leaves no orifice unturned. He'll go to any lengths to push the buttons of his audience, though it seems to play merely for shock value alone.

Pola X has a terrific look to it. The homeless scenes seem inspired by Mike Leigh's Naked, and Guillaume Depardieu, in his all-black attire, long coat, and scraggly beard bears more than a passing resemblance to an angry David Thewlis. Unfortunately, the story is an annoying mass of manipulative contrivances involving Grand Drama, such as the main character's descent into madness, the severe illness of another major character a la Camille, accidents, suicide, children in peril, incest, family secrets hidden behind a stone wall, and revelatory speeches.

These elements are more fitting of an opera than a motion picture. Director Leos Carax sprinkles on some images that scream art-house indulgence, such as a dream sequence where characters spiral naked down a waterfall of blood. Despite his title, there's nothing ambiguous in that at all. Excessive in every way, Pola X flounders and drowns in its own melodrama.

Ambiguous enough for ya?

Pola X

Facts and Figures

Run time: 134 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 9th October 1999

Distributed by: Winstar Cinema


Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 5.9 / 10

Cast & Crew



Starring: as Pierre, Yekaterina Golubeva as Isabelle, as Marie, as Lucie, as Thibault