First Hit: Wonderful dynamic film of a Russian girl coming into her own through dance.
I love the ballet and I like expressive modern dance, so I was looking forward to seeing this film.
That this film begins in Russia with a young girl, supported by her parents, learning to become classical ballerina and segues to her finding her muse as a modern choreographer and dancer in Antwerp was icing on the cake.
One of the early scenes that stayed with me until the end was, after going to a dance class and struggling to do everything perfect, she freeform dances in the snow in a way that only a child can do. And because she has had formal training, there is an exquisite beauty in her movements.
We follow Polina (Veronika Zhovnyska at 8 years old and Anastasia Shevtsova as an adult) from childhood into her early twenties. Through this path, we see her parents Anton (Miglen Mirtchev) and Natalia (Kseniya Kutepova) struggle to keep up the payments for the dance lessons. Her father’s dream is to have Polina dance with the Bolshoi Ballet. It is so much his dream, that he does illegal things to find money to pay for these lessons.
Polina struggles in her dance lessons to be a perfect dancer but we can see that when she dances there is something missing, her soul and spirit. And although she gets into the Bolshoi dance school, she sees a modern dance by a visiting French troupe and it touches her deeply and choses to leave Russia going to France to learn more about this modern dance.
Her teacher at this French school Liria Elsaj (Juliette Binoche) sees the abilities in Polina along with a lack of soul, spirit, and fire from within. She gets hurt, and ends of leaving the company because her boyfriend is being lured away by the person replacing her in a dance.
Going off alone she wanders western Europe trying to find dance work. She continues to discover that the dance company directors want to see what is inside Polina. Only after being hungry and having to live on the street, that she finds a street dancing group that dances through personal expression. Finding a job as a waitress in a bar, she spends more time with the leader of this street group and begins to learn what is inside her, by watching the actions and movement of others.
Eventually, she and leader of this group create their own choreography where her spirit and soul are revealed through the dance they create.
Zhovnyska was fantastic as the young Polina. I loved how her strict dance lessons also allowed her to dance through the snow joyously, one of my favorite scenes in the film. Shevtsova as the older Polina carried on the young Polina perfectly. I loved how she kept the stern outside look of her life on her mostly expressionless face, while her eyes were searching, always signaling that there was more inside. Her last dance brought the whole story together. Mirtchev was wonderful as her loving father who would do anything for his daughter and his dream for her. Kutepova was excellent as Polina’s mother. The scene when she empties Polina’s suit case was perfectly poignant. Binoche was sublime as the French dance instructor that pushed Polina to search within herself. When Polina spies Liria dancing alone in the studio, she begins to see what was meant by dancing from within. Valerie Muller wrote a great screenplay and her direction with Angelin Preljocaj was spot on. The music they used throughout the film enhanced the story while I think the choreography by Preljocaj was spot on exciting.
Overall: I loved how this film comes together through dance.