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POLA X (Leos Carax) 2000 

Watching Leos Caraxís POLA X is like watching a strobe light for two hours. You see flashes of brilliance, and lots of them, but eventually you start to realize that a lot of the time youíre left in the dark. The film is a modernization of a Herman Melville novel from 1852 (Pierre of the Ambiguities - an acronym of the bookís French title provides the movieís name, with the X supposedly referring to the fact that the tenth draft of the screenplay was filmed) and some of the updating in it is creaky at best. The way that the homeless are treated here is particularly notable for its credulity straining and itís especially surprising coming from Carax, who made the excellent The Lovers on the Bridge, which portrayed the plight of the homeless quite intelligently. Also irksome is the inevitable third act, which shows the hero as he falls from grace, since it doesnít feel very plausible that he would fall so hard so fast. Maybe this played better in the novel, where Melville would be able to justify why the character doesnít swallow a bit of pride and do the obvious, but in the filmed version it makes you wish that Carax had created POLA XI and fixed it.  

The film is much more successful when you donít pick apart its plot. Itís filled with emotions writ large, but the solid performances of the cast keeps things from feeling overly melodramatic. The visual splendor and contrasting squalor that Carax casts the movie in manages to magnify the already oversized drama. The estate at the filmís start is so luxurious and is populated by people so gorgeous that you start counting toward the downfall from the get-go (though the opening coda in which a graveyard blows apart probably plants a few seeds too). Carax isnít a subtle director, but thatís okay too. He melds the romanticism found in the novel with a feeling of generational nihilism that seems to be kicking anything in the film that resembles the establishment. Each set piece that Carax throws at us seems another swipe at something, but itís slightly ambiguous what it is, exactly. Surely, the sins of the father weigh heavily upon our protagonist, but thereís more to it than that. The feeling of restlessness seems to be the dominant one. Things donít exactly make sense as the film progresses, but emotions do. We can sympathize with the protagonistís plight and Caraxís directorial parlor tricks fill in many of the remaining gaps, in their own exaggerated way.  

***1/2 

01/15/02 

Jeremy Heilman