1991-2000ArthouseDramaFranceLeos Carax

Leos Carax – Pola X [+Commentary] (1999)



Pierre, a young man of privilege, whose anonymously-published novel is a hit and who’s about to marry his blond cousin, Lucie, abandons all when a dark-haired vagrant tells him her secret late one night in the woods: that she is Isabelle, his sister, abandoned by their father. Pierre breaks off with Lucie and his doting mother, heading for Paris with Isabelle, intent on knowing the dark side of human nature. He begins a novel, sending chapters under a pseudonym to his publisher; his relationship with Isabelle moves beyond the fraternal; and, in winter, the frail Lucie comes to live with them. Family jealousies mount, and Pierre may have discovered despair instead of the truth.


‘I don’t see myself as part of a generation. I don’t feel I have anything in common with other French directors.’
– Leos Carax

Pola X is a fantastic clash of energies, a remarkable, deeply unsettling and original piece of work. Beautifully constructed and majestically seductive in design, Carax invests his entire being as a film-maker into it. Each image and each scene possesses a force and an enigma that is visually arresting. The central discourse that animates Carax’s work revolves around one of life’s elemental questions: What does love possibly mean in the contemporary world? Carax remains a singular talent with a unique feel for poetry, space and movement. The short construction in ‘Pola X’ transmutes a shock of surprise, possibility and emotional intensity. Carax’s visual style (aided by cinematographer Eric Gautier) is one of the most seductive in current cinema: cool and beautifully transparent. His shots frame the actors with a crystalline precision, while apparently discordant sequences are punctuated by flights of poetic sensation.

In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Isabelle’s extensive monologue explaining her back-story as she and Pierre progress through the woods at twilight, Carax tests legibility and exposition to the extreme – its visual liminality becomes a metaphor for the contradictions that are personified in Carax’s uniquely self-defeating talent. His narrative and formal audacity are ultimately indistinguishable from failure.

Carax’s films are intense, overpowering, personal outpourings of emotions. Though his cinematic style owes much to the improvisational elliptical manner of the French nouvelle vogue of the 1960s, his sensibility is based in nineteenth century French Romanticism. There are sequences in Pola X that are breathtaking in their poetic density, and scenes complimented by an ineffable touch of a cinematic grace that haunt the imagination.



Subtitles:English (idx, sub)

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