1999, NR, 134 min. Directed by Leos Carax. Starring Guillaume Depardieu, Katerina Golubeva, Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Chuillot, Petruta Catana, Mihaella Silaghi, Laurent Lucas.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 27, 2000
The images are incredible; they transpire with a lyrical, hallucinatory, and dramatically powerful resonance. Searingly potent and suggestively supple, Carax's images are rich with emotion and ideas. Mostly emotion, though -- it's not for nothing that Carax is regarded as the enfant terrible of French filmmaking. Pola X possesses a romantic grandeur similar to that of Carax's last film Lovers on the Bridge (which was made in 1991 despite that film's theatrical release in America only last year). Largely criticized for being overbudget and overlong, Lovers on the Bridge allegedly sent several producers into bankruptcy and re-editing hell, and earned Carax a permanent reputation as a mad genius. Eight years passed before Carax was ready in 1999 to try it again with Pola X. The film is based on Herman Melville's novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (curiously, it's the book Melville wrote following the poor reception of his previous novel, Moby-Dick). There is no character named Pola in Carax's film, however. His title is an acronym for the French name for Melville's novel: Pierre, ou les Ambiguities. The X derives from the shooting script being Carax's tenth draft of his screenplay. Carax's Pierre (Depardieu) is a young novelist who lives in the French countryside, shuffling back and forth between the homes of his soon-to-be bride Lucie (Chuillot) and his now-and-forever mother Marie (Deneuve). He encounters a scraggly and semi-articulate young woman Isabelle (Golubeva) who says she's from the war zones of eastern Europe and claims to be Pierre's illegitimate sister, who was sired by his deceased diplomat father during one of his missions. Pierre goes away with her, at first wanting only to bring comfort and warmth into this deprived woman's life. Soon their relationship turns physical (which in one scene is pictured quite graphically). Lucie comes to join them, and the three live in some kind of abandoned industrial warehouse in Paris. Not all of Pola X is fully comprehensible: Characters are not always clearly introduced and actions do not always make obvious sense. But the images -- oh, they capture the mood of this piece and the things that are really important. Like Pierre, whose goal for his next novel is to uncover the lies hidden beyond everything, Carax throws his visions up there (certainly going further with the incest theme than Melville) and they transmit a powerful reality. Wherever you focus, the images lead into another line of inquiry and speculation. The underlying romanticism that guides Carax's quest makes an interesting bedfellow to the filmmaker's need to expose the truth behind our lies. Pola X rises from the chasm between these needs.