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Movie Review

Heady 'Pola X' Speaks Language of Love

October 13, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Europeans, especially the French, can still carry off the big, serious romantic movie, and no one is doing it better, or with such bravura, as Leos Carax.

The cost of replicating Paris' Pont Neuf for his "Lovers on the Bridge," which drove its budget upward of $25 million, and its initially cool reception sidelined Carax for seven years. But that has not stopped him from pulling out all the stops--at least in regard to complexity of style and theme--in the clearly less costly "Pola X." It works on several levels of meaning and panache, yet it undoubtedly will leave behind those unable to go along with its unabashed headiness.

Guillaume Depardieu, Gerard's tall, handsome son, stars as a privileged young man living an idyllic existence in a grand Normandy chateau on the banks of the Seine with his beautiful mother Marie (Catherine Deneuve), with whom he has so warm a relationship as to border on incest. He also has a devoted, beautiful and aristocratic fiancee, Lucie (Delphine Chuillot), of whom his mother clearly approves. To top it off, he has written a bestseller hailed as the cult novel of his generation. Then he starts having disturbing dreams of a furtive dark-haired young woman (Katerina Golubeva) who materializes in his waking hours, her appearance truly cataclysmic in impact.

When Depardieu's Pierre finally catches up with her, she tells him in her broken, strongly accented English that she is Isabelle, his older half-sister who was actually in residence at the chateau when he was born but was banished soon afterward. It would seem that Isabelle is the result of a romance of Pierre's late father, a once-eminent French diplomat stationed in the Balkans. Or is Isabelle an impostor like Anna Andersen, the German woman who, not long after the Russian Revolution, falsely proclaimed that she was the Romanov princess Anastasia and had somehow survived the firing squad?

In any event, Pierre loses his heart to Isabelle in an instant. He feels so repulsed by his parents' rejection of Isabelle that he runs off with her to Paris, where his next book will "reveal the great lie hidden behind everything." The couple takes shelter in a vast abandoned complex outside Paris, either a former power station or factory, that has become the refuge of a group of rock musicians/terrorists. (Scott Walker's industrial-strength rock score is just right for the movie, as is cinematographer Eric Gautier's grand, sweeping camera movement).

*

"Pola X" plays out the notion of the forces of light being inexorably drawn to those of darkness, of the older generation betraying the younger and maybe even an indictment of European indifference to the Balkans' agony. The film is also a notably dizzying romance, its key love scene shadowy but discernibly graphic.

Above all, it's a portrait of the artist determined to express himself truthfully at all costs. Surely, Carax must identify with Pierre, especially in the wake of his "Lovers on the Bridge" debacle. Carax need not worry: In going for broke with "Pola X," he pulled off a personal triumph.

Depardieu bears no physical resemblance to his crooked-nosed, beefy father, yet he reveals a similar stamina and passion in playing a challenging role. Golubeva's Isabelle is as loving as she is enigmatic, and Deneuve lends dignity and ballast, along with beauty and presence. "Pola X" takes its title from "Pierre, or the Ambiguities," the 1852 Herman Melville novel that inspired it. "Pola" is an acronym for the French title ("Pierre ou les Ambiguites"); the "X" refers to the fact that its shooting script represents Carax's 10th draft. Ambiguity suffuses the film, eluding and menacing Pierre, who can't accept it as inevitably part of life.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations, a scene of shadowy but explicit sex.

'Pola X'

Guillaume Depardieu: Pierre

Katerina Golubeva: Isabelle

Catherine Deneuve: Marie

Delphine Chuillot: Lucie

A Winstar Cinema release of a co-production of Arena Films/Pola Production/Theo Films/France 2 Cinema/Pandora Filmproduktion/Euro Space/Vega Film. Director Leos Carax. Screenplay Carax, Lauren Sedofsky, Jean-Pol Fargeau. Cinematographer Eric Gautier. Editor Nelly Quettier. Music Scott Walker. Costumes Esther Walz. Production designer Laurent Allaire. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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