Pros: deep and dark themes - Carax's trademark beauty - explosive ending
Cons: Art is not for everyone
The Orson Welles of Generation-X, cursed director Leos Carax emerged from exile with this testament to art. Pola X is much more than just a film, it is a love ballad to modern society's forgotten culture.
Alex Oscar Dupont (Alex Oscar = Leos Carax with letters pushed around) is most famous for his "Alex Trilogy" (Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood, Lovers on the Bridge), three otherwise unrelated films famous for featuring Denis Lavant as the protagonist Alex and Juliette Binoche as his partner in love. The last film of the trilogy, Lovers on the Bridge, went six or seven times over budget, rumored to have bankrupted three different producers, and destroyed the industry's faith in Carax's ability to stay economically reasonable. Doomed, he went into side-project exile, creating nothing particularly noteworthy. Eight years later, Leos Carax emerged from exile with his self-declared swan song, his most personal and artistic movie ever.
Pola X (loosely based on Melville's infamous Pierre or the Ambiguities) is a film about countless things. The storyline relates the journey of a popular cult writer named Pierre who ventures into the slums of Paris seeking "the truth." Pierre is the only son of a French diplomat and grew up wealthy under the roof of his mother's Normandy mansion. He writes youth-targetted hit novels under the penname "Aladin," but yearns for artistic seriousness, or "unveiling the great lie hidden behind everything." His editor discourages Pierre's goal, explaining that fans love him exactly because he writes immaturely. Ignoring all advice, Pierre begins work on his masterpiece, ensuring that every single word is perfect... yet something is missing.
An Eastern European homeless woman named Isabelle stalks Pierre during the day and haunts him in his dreams at night. Not unlike the title character of Beloved, Isabelle is mystical and bewitching, a walking corpse born from the instability of post-Cold War Eastern Europe. Searching for meaning to this specter, Pierre eventually discovers and confronts Isabelle. Her mystery moves Pierre to escape his sheltered life in Normandy, hopefully finding an artistic rebirth within the slums of Paris. Could Isabelle be the key to finding the great lie and exposing it within his art?
Pola X has a wealth of themes and flavors, some of which I'll do my best to portray here. The most obvious flavor of Pola X is its undertone of intimacy and flowing sexuality. The audience gets the feeling that "sister" Marie is more than just a mother to Pierre, just as best buddy Thibault is more than just a friend (the film doesn't outright illustrate any of this, but it's strongly implied). Incest, the last true taboo, provides a sizable chunk of Pola X's foundation, so if you don't keep telling yourself "this is just a movie" you risk becoming seriously offended.
While we're on the theme of sexuality, let me note here that there is a socially-drawn fine line between "artistic genius" and the "perverse." Without making an overshadowing spectacle out of this, I warn sensitive readers that the single sex scene within Pola X is just as graphic as a XXX-rated movie. It is done artistically, beautifully, and devoid of sleaze, but if you can't stomach seeing lovers' have sex, be forewarned. Much like the main character Pierre, director Carax sought artistic truth and this sex scene should not be seen as anything other than one of many elements contributing to the truth of Pola X's vision.
The central theme of Pola X is a writer's journey to truly become an "artist." Many of us share Pierre's goal of becoming a serious artist; whether it be through music, filmmaking, writing, or what not. His quest is culturally universal - what is "the great lie hidden behind everything," and furthermore, "how does an artist expose the truth?" Pierre is more than willing to leave his family, friends, lifestyle, and popularity in search of his goal. An admirable mistake, unforgiving in consequence.
Pola X doesn't stop in simply portraying Pierre's soul-searching. It asks the depressingly honest question: does the public want to hear the truth... do they want art? Carax's answer is obvious. In literature, who are the bestselling authors? In cinema, which films do people flock to see and who wins the Oscars? In music, which musicians do people listen to the most? Dare I try to ask similar questions of painting, theater, sculpture, poetry - all dead mediums in modern culture. Leos Carax simply reiterates what most already know: art is dead.
Being a member of the second French New Wave (Cinema de Look), Leos Carax is no stranger to style. Boasting the best DPs and cinematography of the movement, Carax's movies are the pinnacle of cinematic beauty within modern first-world film. Pola X is his most breathtaking piece ever.
I stated earlier that Pola X is Leos Carax's self-proclaimed swan song - this is very true. Carax holds up the original writings of Herman Melville's Pierre as being the book of his life. He claims that Pierre or the Ambiguities still baffles him to this day, citing this absence of understanding as his main reason for adaptation in the first place. Beyond that, the career moves made by the protagonist are striking in similarity to those made by Carax. Like Pierre, Leos Carax yearned for the artistic truth. Like Pierre, Leos Carax lived in the shadow of popular previous works, never allowed to fulfill his dream. And like Pierre, Leos Carax emerged from exile with the masterpiece of his life, only to have the happily ignorant public shoot it down. In this sense, Pola X's accurately predicted its own fate. People don't want art and artists anymore, they want the security only found in mindlessness.
"You don't adapt novels, rather the enduring sensations they leave you with"(Carax)
Pola X is the definition of artistic depth. Even after several viewings, I have yet to uncover all of its themes and undertones. Full of new discovery and everlasting relevancy - a painting on your living room wall that captures your admiration upon every passing. This, my friends, is what should be demanded from cinema... and for that matter, from all mediums of art.