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Anastasia Shevtsova

“POLINA” My rating: B-

108 minutes | No MPAA rating

On the surface, “Polina” appears to be a fairly typical dance film, one that follows an aspiring ballerina from childhood through rigorous training to triumph on the stage.

Except that’s not really what it’s about.

Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljoca’s film begins in Moscow where young Polina (played as a child by Veronica Zhovnytska) begins serious ballet training under the demanding Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov), who frequently berates her for allowing her emotions (there are troubles at home) to interfere with her technique.

Young Polina takes his words to heart, so much so that in class she radiates a sullen stoicism.  Only when she’s walking home alone does this little girl allow herself to caper in the snow with childlike enthusiasm.

As an adolescent (now played by Anastasia Shevtsova) she’s good enough to be accepted by the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet. But emotionally she’s a closed book.  What is she thinking? What does she really want?

Polina gives herself (with only limited enthusiasm) to a fellow dancer, a French lad (Niels Schneider) interning with the Bolshoi. When he returns to France she follows, joining a regional company presided over by Liria (Juliette Binoche), a choreographer who complains that while Polina may be technically perfect, she exhibits no passion.

This then, is the heart of “Polina”: When will our heroine overcome her emotional blockages and open up to the expressive possibilities of dance? (Hint: the film ends with a knockout modern dance piece choreographed by co-director Preljocaj.)

The problem with all this, of course, is that an emotionally blocked character isn’t very interesting.

While Shevtsova is obviously a lovely young woman and an accomplished dancer, her acting chops appear limited.  In any case it’s hard to read what’s going on behind her character’s blank exterior, and that makes “Polina” itself more an exercise in technique than in feeling.

| Rober W. Butler

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