Polina is a movie about a Russian ballet dancer who moves to France to dance.
The movie begins in Russia, with young Polina auditioning to join a ballet school. She isn’t the best dancer there, but we find out that she is accepted. Her father congratulates her and says he looks forward to seeing her as a prima ballerina someday. Young Polina shakes her head, and her father looks at her confused, to which her mother explains that it’s too expensive.
Nevertheless, we see her attending dance classes, though she does seem a little off. Her instructor, Bojinski, asks her where she thinks dance moves come from, and she answers, “From inside herself.” We see this explained as we watch her walk home, and she begins dancing on the street, seemingly to music that we cannot hear. Her instructor says that she would be better if she made it to all of her classes, but she says she cannot, because she has to help her mother at work. Bojinski says that dancing is her work.
We skip forward to an older Polina, who is now training to audition for the prestigious Bolshoi ballet academy. Bojinski explains that a ballet dancer should look like their movements take very little effort, and that they are light as air. Her peers are also training, and we find out that they have gone with a different choreographer, but Polina has decided to stick with Polinski, despite the fact that he is criticised for being very “old school”. She asks him about this, and he says that he used to make more provocative dances, but that’s not how the higher ups want Russia to be seen as, and ballet is one of the things Russia is most famous for.
Polina’s life seems quite good, until two men break into their family home, and demand payment from her father. He doesn’t have the money now, so they get him to agree to do the “Afghanistan run” instead.
During a training session, Polina sneaks into the costume room, and is greeted by Adrien, a French dancer who is training in Russia. The begin to get naked together.
Polina passes the entrance exam for the Bolshoi academy, and her parents are overjoyed. She ends up watching a modern dance performance with some of the other dancers, and is captivated by the dancing style. She finds out they’re based in France, and that Adrien will be returning to France. She decides to audition, which upsets her mother, as this would clash with her joining the Bolshoi Academy later in the year. She says to trust her, and travels to France with Adrien.
Once there, they audition and are hired on probation and given starring roles. It seems like a sweet teenage romance at first, but it quickly turns sour once their have difficulties dancing together. This style of dancing is different to ballet, with an emphasis on “heaviness”. Polina injures herself, and another dancer is asked to step in once she recovers. Adrien and the sub get along much better which causes Polina to become jealous. She asks for her role back, saying she has recovered, but the instructor tells her that the new dancer dances much better with Adrien.
Polina leaves, and moves to Antwerp, where she tries to find work as a dancer, even falsely presenting herself as a Bolshoi graduate, but to no avail. She runs out of money, and eventually finds work in a bar, and a roommate in an improv dance instructor.
This is probably me reading too much into it, and channelling my inner arts student, but I think the underlying theme through the movie was love, which was expressed through Polina’s dancing.
At the start of the movie, we discover that she has been dancing since she was 4. Despite knowing that the journey to become a prima ballerina is way out of their budget, her parents somehow make it work, and Polina manages to get into the Bolshoi Academy. We never find out exactly what Polina’s parents do, but it is implied that it is not entirely on the side of the law (in one scene, we see someone paying Polina’s father quite a large sum of money in cash for some rugs he dumps in the back of his car, and there was the scene where two armed men break into their house and her father agrees to do the Afghanistan run – which is never explained).
This represents familial love – the kind of love that you are born into, where people help each other out just because they are family. Polina is not able to dance full-time, as she must help her mother out at work, and both of her parents are doing some questionable things to help Polina achieve her dream. At this stage of her dancing, though she enjoys dancing her own style, she goes with the traditional ballet style, simply because she doesn’t know any better, and respects the authority in Bojinski, similar to how she does what her parents want her to do, as she respects their authority. Though Bojinski does force her to dance in the classical ballet style, he does so because he thinks that is in her best interests.
At the next stage, we see her break free and join Adrien in France (as she tells her mother, she is “sick of dancing other people’s routines”). As far as we can tell, Adrien is her first love – the first person she has chosen to love, as opposed to the familial love that you are born into. We see in their first audition together that they are both amazing dancers, and their performance is stunning. This mirrors the early stage of their relationship, where they are care-free, still in the “love will conquer all” mindset – so much so that Polina chooses to leave Russia for him. They make it into the modern dance studio, and this is when the first cracks start to show.
While practising a new routine, there is a move where Adrien headbutts Polina and she is supposed to fly backwards through the air and land on her feet. Both times, Polina stumbles. As she picks herself up the second time, she yells at Adrien, “You’re making me dance like shit.” He responds, “I can’t do this if you’re not facing me the right way.” The instructor steps in and says, “Polina, you need to face him straight, and Adrien, you need to push her higher into the air.” Polina scoffs, as if to say, “See? I told you it was your fault.” In the change room, Adrien notices Polina has injured her toe, and expresses concern. Polina brushes him off, saying it’s nothing. On their day off, Adrien wants to spend the day together, but Polina insists on practising in the studio until she can get it right, chiding Adrien for not doing it, too. At the next rehearsal, there is a move where Polina must jump onto Adrien’s extended leg, and he swings her across. We can see her hesitate before beginning, and even the instructor asks if she’s OK, but she says she’s fine and goes for the jump. She ends up falling off Adrien’s leg and injuring her ankle.
Polina doesn’t seem to realise that the relationship isn’t all about what she wants. From the way she blames Adrien for failing, the way she brushes off his concern, and the way she looks down on him for not practising as much as her. In the past, the people around her have changed in order to help her accomplish her dream, but Adrien has his own dreams, and his own road to achieve them. When she ends up being benched to recover, and sees Adrien dancing really well with his new partner, she becomes angry. In her defense, this kind of love is new to her, just like this kind of dancing is new to her. Where ballet was light and appeared effortless, modern dancing is meant to be heavy and realistic.
I’m a uncertain as to whether Polina left Adrien, or if he kicked her out. I was under the impression that she left, but Lucy thought he kicked her out. Either way, she realises that he isn’t for her and struggles alone for a while.
The next relationship she has is with Karl, the improv dance instructor. They fall in love over one night spent drunkenly dancing together on a pier. This is the first time we see Polina dancing without a set routine. The two of them are tasked to choreograph a dance for a festival, and we see the process in which the dance comes together, with Polina dancing and Karl adjusting, or Karl dancing and Polina adjusting. The whole dance is a collaboration. At this point, we can see that Polina has learned that love is a collaboration.
OK, I’ll admit that the last bit is a bit of a stretch, as the movie ends there, and while we see Polina happy with Karl, you can’t really judge the success of a relationship by the honeymoon stage. But those are my thoughts on the movie!
As for the movie itself, it was great to watch. It wasn’t entirely about ballet, more about Polina’s journey, with some dancing in it, but I enjoyed it.
WHY AM I PROCRASTINATING?!