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In 1997, for it's fiftieth anniversary, the Cannes Film Festival asked Leos Carax for a short film, a kind of postcard addressed to the festival, in which the director would give news of himself and of his film project "Pola X".
Pierre vive con la madre in Normandia. Un'esistenza tranquilla e felice. Ogni mattina Pierre va a trovare Lucie, la propria fidanzata. Sono in fermento perchè devono sposarsi fra breve. Una sera il giovane fa uno strano incontro. Una donna bella e malinconica, dal volto stranamente familiare. Lei gli dice di essere sua sorella e di chiamarsi Isabelle. Pierre rimane scioccato : perchè la madre non gli ha mai rivelato questo segreto? Written by
Pola is an acronym for "Pierre ou les ambiguites," the French translation of the title of the Herman Melville novel on which the film is based. See more »
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.
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To borrow from the film itself: "A raving morass that reeks of plagiarism."
I want very much to believe that the above quote (specifically, the English subtitle translation), which was actually written, not spoken, in a rejection letter a publisher sends to the protagonist, was meant to be self-referential in a tongue-in-cheek manner. But if so, director Leos Carax apparently neglected to inform the actors of the true nature of the film. They are all so dreadfully earnest in their portrayals that I have to conclude Carax actually takes himself seriously here, or else has so much disdain for everyone, especially the viewing audience, that he can't be bothered letting anyone in on the joke.
Some auteurs are able to get away with making oblique, bizarre films because they do so with élan and unique personal style (e.g., David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky). Others use a subtler approach while still weaving surreal elements into the fabric of the story (e.g., Krzysztof Kieslowski, and David Cronenberg's later, less bizarre works). In Pola X, Carax throws a disjointed mess at the viewer and then dares him to find fault with it. Well, here it is: the pacing is erratic and choppy, in particular continuity is often dispensed with; superfluous characters abound (e.g., the Gypsy mother and child); most of the performances are overwrought; the lighting is often poor, particularly in the oft-discussed sex scene; unconnected scenes are thrust into the film for no discernible reason; and the list goes on.
Not to be completely negative, it should be noted that there were some uplifting exceptions. I liked the musical score, even the cacophonous industrial-techno music being played in the sprawling, abandoned complex to which the main characters retreat in the second half of the film (perhaps a reference to Andy Warhol's 'Factory' of the '60s?). Much of the photography of the countryside was beautiful, an obvious attempt at contrast with the grimy city settings. And, even well into middle-age, Cathering Deneuve shows that she still has 'it'. Her performance was also the only one among the major characters that didn't sink into bathos.
There was an earlier time when I would regard such films as "Pola X" more charitably. Experimentation is admirable, even when the experiment doesn't work. But Carax tries nothing new here; the film is a pastiche of elements borrowed from countless earlier films, and after several decades of movie-viewing and literally thousands of films later, I simply no longer have the patience for this kind of unoriginal, poorly crafted tripe. At this early moment in the 21st century, one is left asking: With the exception of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, are there *any* directors in France who know how to make a watchable movie anymore? Rating: 3/10.
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