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Leos Carax’s POLA X explores incest and ennui between France and Eastern Europe

CinémaTuesdays: POLA X (Leos Carax, 1999)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, February 19, $10, 12:30, 4:00, 7:30

French auteur Leos Carax’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s controversial 1852 novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, is a dour, plodding tale of family dysfunction reaching ridiculous heights. Named after the first letter of each word in the French title of Melville’s tome, Pierre ou les ambiguities, and the tenth and final draft of the script, POLA X follows the trials and tribulations of an aristocratic clan facing its ultimate demise. The patriarch, a cold war diplomat, has died, and his beautiful blonde wife, Marie (Catherine Deneuve), is going through his boxes of papers. Their son, novelist Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu), who refers to his mother as his sister and is not uncomfortable talking to her while she is naked, is engaged to the prim and proper Lucie (Delphine Chuillot). Pierre, Lucie, and his very serious cousin, Thibault (Laurent Lucas), form a sort of Jules and Jim trio. But Pierre is haunted by a dark-haired woman lurking in his dreams, a somewhat feral creature who ends up claiming to be his half-sister, Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva), the result of an indiscretion their father had while on an assignment. Angered by the story Isabelle tells him, Pierre takes off with her and her companions, Razerka (Petruta Catana) and Razerka’s young daughter (Mihaella Silaghi). Pierre and Isabelle grow too close very quickly, soon finding themselves posing as husband and wife while living with an underground radical organization. And it only gets crazier from there. POLA X attempts to be epic in scope, its central tale of incest and ennui echoing France’s treatment of Eastern Europe and its refugees, but Carax makes virtually every character unlikable, and nearly every scene stretches credulity, resulting in two hours of annoying people making annoying choices and doing annoying things. POLA X is screening on February 19 at Florence Gould Hall as part of the French Institute Alliance Française CinémaTuesdays series “When Boy Meets Girl: The Cinema of Leos Carax”; it was initially supposed to be preceded by Carax’s 1997 short, Sans titre, also starring Depardieu, Golubeva, and Deneuve, but that has been canceled. The series concludes February 26 with Carax’s widely hailed latest film, Holy Motors, with the director on hand to participate in a Q&A with Richard Brody following the 7:00 show.

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