Monday, August 11, 2014
Based on Herman Melville’s Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, Pola X is the story of a novelist who meets a woman who claims to be his long-lost sister as they begin an incestuous affair. Directed by Leos Carax and screenplay by Carax and Jean-Pol Fargeau, the film is an exploration into the world of incest as well as family roots where a man ponders about his own identity and the secrets involving his family. Starring Guillaume Depardieu, Yekaterina Golubeva, Delphine Chuillot, and Catherine Deneuve. Pola X is an extremely dark yet exhilarating film from Leos Carax.
The film explores the life of a young novelist who once had a life of great promise, despite some of his family’s eccentricities, where he discovers that a woman he has been encountering could be his long-lost sister. This revelation would not only have him question about his identity but his entire life and work in general where he would live into a different lifestyle as he would encounter tragedies as well as despair. Adding to the complication of his life is his sister where the two engage into an incestuous affair that would become the centerpiece of his next novel. It’s a film that plays into a man who is about to have it all but the secrets about his own family life has him questioning what is real and what is fake while meeting this woman from the Balkans who lives a very feral lifestyle as he would move from this carefree yet idyllic lifestyle to something more dreary.
The film’s screenplay definitely takes the ideas of Herman Melville’s story as they would set it in contemporary France where the first act starts off with a look into the life of Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu) who lives in a lavish estate as he shares his inheritance with his mother Marie (Catherine Deneuve) where they have an offbeat relationship where he refers to her as his sister where it implies a bit of incest. Pierre is set to marry Lucie (Delphine Chuillot) as it would complete the idyllic life he leads until he believes he is followed by some strange woman whom he would finally meet on his way to meet Lucie one night as her name is Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva) who claims to be his long-lost sister. The second act would be about Pierre and Isabelle living a life that Isabelle knows as Pierre runs away from everything he once knew about as he would drift from place to place as they would eventually find a home in this shelter where artists and those on the fringe of society.
The script explores Pierre questioning the world he once lived in as the estate he lives with his mother would have places where he wonders about some of the rooms he’s never been in. In his first actual meeting with Isabelle, she would tell him through broken-French exactly who she is in this amazing monologue as it adds to the ambiguity of everything he tries to question. Once he would accept his fate in the film’s second act, he would be pushed away by his cousin Thibault (Laurent Lucas) who would later try to destroy him as Pierre is determined to create a new novel. Yet, aspects of his past would return to him in the third act where Lucie would join him as a troubled love triangle between him, Isabelle, and Lucie would complicate things. Especially as questions would emerge about his work in front of the public and the numerous tragedies that he would encounter.
Carax’s direction is definitely stylish in some respects but also has this balance of creating something that does feel very simplistic. Though the film starts off with this very strange montage of planes dropping bombs on cemeteries which is a very offbeat way to open the film as it showcases that not everything is as it seems. Even as the film starts off in a very calm and idyllic manner where everything feels like a world that a fool would want to leave as it’s shot near Normandy. Still, Carax would find ways to have elements of darkness and ambiguities lurking into the first act where Pierre’s first meeting with Isabelle would mark a major shift in the film’s tone. Especially where much of the film would be set in Paris but not in areas that usually defines the city but rather places that feels more like on the fringes.
The film would then become more stylish as the camera work such as some of the crane shots and set pieces become a bit more elaborate. Though there are stylish moments that Carax would present in the film’s first act in the motorcycle scenes. It becomes more apparent as the film progresses where it would include moments that are very dangerous and confrontational. Among them is a very explicit and un-simulated sex scene between Pierre and Isabelle as well as this very surreal dream sequence of the two making love into a river of blood. It would add to this sense of dark fantasy and despair the characters would live in as well as the continuing question of ambiguities and identity that Pierre would endure as it would lead to this very visceral climax. Overall, Carax creates a very unsettling and rapturous film about a man questioning his choices in life and who he is.
Cinematographer Eric Gautier does fantastic work with the film‘s cinematography from the lush yet colorful look of the posh locations in Normandy to the more grimy look of the streets of Paris with its low-key lights and de-saturated look to create something that feels more real and grimy. Editor Nelly Quettier does brilliant work with the film‘s stylish editing with its use of jump-cuts as well as fade-outs and such to create some dizzying montages and moments that would amp up the drama. Production designer Laurent Allaire and set decorator Regine Constant do excellent work with the set pieces from the look of the lavish estate that Pierre lived in to the factory-like home where he and Isabelle would live.
Costume designer Esther Waltz does nice work with the costumes as much of the clothes in the first act has everyone, except for Isabelle, wear white as it would become more ragged as the film progresses. The sound work of Jean-Pierre Laforce, Jean-Louis Ughetto, and Beatrice Wick is amazing for the way some of the mixing and textures sound such as the post-industrial music recorded in the factory as well as some of the film‘s eerie sound effects. The film’s music largely consists of score pieces by Scott Walker that is very ominous and chilling with its mixture of minimalist electronics and orchestral pieces while the soundtrack includes contributions by Smog, Sonic Youth, Fairuz, Nguyen Le, and M. Luobin Wang to play into the crazed world the characters live in.
The casting by Antoinette Boulat Outcast is excellent as it features some notable small roles from Samuel Dupuy as Lucie’s brother Fred, Dine Souli as a cab driver Pierre would argue with in the second act, Sarunas Bartas as leader of the factory home where Pierre and Isabelle would stay at, Miguel Yeco as the estate gamekeeper Augusto, Patachou as Pierre’s agent Marguerite, Petruta Catana as a feral gypsy friend of Isabelle in Razerka, and Mihaella Silaghi as Razerka’s daughter. Laurent Lucas is terrific as Pierre’s cousin Thibault who had feelings for Lucie as he would later isolate him and later try to create a schism over Pierre’s relationship with Isabelle. Delphine Chuillot is fantastic as Lucie as Pierre’s fiancée who is devoted to him as she would join him and Isabelle in their dreary world as she tries to deal with the decisions he would make in his life.
Catherine Deneuve is great as Pierre’s mother Marie as this very eccentric woman who wants to be referred to Pierre as his sister as she watches over his inheritance while becoming bewildered about this sudden decision to leave behind his idyllic life. Yekaterina Golubeva is amazing as Isabelle as this mysterious yet ragged woman who claims to be Pierre’s long-lost sister as she tries to tell him some truth as she is a woman with some great flaws but there’s something entrancing in Golubeva’s performance that makes Isabelle so interesting. Finally, there’s Guillaume Depardieu in a riveting performance as Pierre as this young novelist who goes from being the writer of his generation to being a man who descends into madness as he questions about his identity and choices in his life.
Pola X is a tremendously harrowing yet captivating film from Leos Carax. Armed with great performances from the late Guillaume Depardieu, the late Yekaterina Golubeva, and Catherine Deneuve as well as dazzling visuals. It’s a film that definitely takes the idea of incest and identity to massive extremes as it’s definitely not a film for the faint of heart. In the end, Pola X is a remarkable film from Leos Carax.
Leos Carax Films: Boy Meets Girl - Mauvais Sang - The Lovers on the Bridge - Tokyo!-Merde - Holy Motors - Annette - The Auteurs #36: Leos Carax
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