Completing my viewing of Leos Carax films, “Pola X” is a much different beast than all of his other features I had seen. This is the only feature from Carax that does not have Denis Lavant in a starring role, and his absence is felt.
“Pola X” is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel “Pierre; or, the Ambiguities” and is about a guy named Pierre who has it all. He is living the traditional life of the bourgeois, he lives in a chateau with his mother, is engaged to be married to the gorgeous Lucie, and is a very successful author. Life is a breeze for the young man as he seems to drift through it with relative ease. However one day while out with his cousin Thibault, he feels a presence watching him. He notices a dark haired stranger staring at him and when Pierre motions after her, she takes off. Pierre goes after her but eventually loses her. Since then, though, he cannot get this woman out of his head because he is sure that he has seen her before. One day while riding his motorcycle, by chance he comes across the same girl and this time he stops her to talk. She tells Pierre an incredible story about how she is actually Pierre’s sister, as the two both have the same father. This rocks Pierre’s world, as he goes home to try and find some evidence of Isabelle, his sister. He is disgusted that he has lived the life he has while his sister has had nothing, living on the streets, so he believes that the right thing to do is to look after her and give her the world, and in doing so he turns his back on his own world, and leaves his fiancé. It isn’t long before Pierre realizes just how tough life is without funds at his disposal and he finds himself spiraling downward in despair. His appearance changes, things he once cared about he no longer does, and his writing he believes is full of façade. This is reality, what he was writing about was fantasy. As Pierre and Isabelle live it rough on the streets the siblings become increasingly close until they actually fall in love. Pierre continues to fall into a depression as he begins writing once again, expecting to sell his book and be able to look after Isabelle, but when his book is rejected, he spins out of control and head on into the final chapter of his life.
This is a seriously depressing film and not really that much fun to watch either. Watching the self destruction of an unlikable man is hard work to invest in, but these kinds of stories Carax has been able to pull off before, except with “Pola X” I felt that the charm of his previous films was missing here. There was no light in the darkness of the story here, and the characters were really hard to identify with.
There is a sad history associated with “Pola X” because both leads are no longer with us. Guillaume Depardieu (son of Gerard), who plays Pierre, tragically died back in 2008 due to complications with pneumonia, while Russian born Yekaterina Golubeva, who played Isabelle, recently passed away in 2011 of a suspected suicide. Both performances are fantastic in “Pola X” with Depardieu attacking the role viscerally, it is a full body performance as he changes his look and demeanor throughout the whole film. He is fantastic and just inhabits Pierre. I do not know what it is about Carax and the women he casts in his films because they all have that incredibly sad look behind their eyes and Golubeva is no exception. She appears to be in a permanent state of depression as Isabelle, and she portrays her much more internally, almost the opposite of Pierre. Isabelle keeps everything in, doesn’t make big grand gestures and has a quiet presence. Despite the sadness on her eyes, Golubeva is gorgeous in her role here. Speaking of gorgeous, Delphine Chuillot’s Lucie is the epitome of that. I must admit that I found Catherine Deneuve’s role and performance as Pierre’s mother a little odd. She didn’t add a whole lot to the plot and her character just seemed off.
As usual for a Carax film, there are a lot of great camera moves and locations, especially the abandoned factory where all of the homeless seem to live. Its towering staircases give Carax the opportunity for some grand visual splendor and he does not disappoint. Another stunning visual moment comes at the end of the film when a character is murdered. It is such a great shot and I assume the choreography of the moment would have been hard to pull off. Despite all this, there is one scene that “Pola X” is infamous for and that is its explicit sex scene between Pierre and Isabelle. The scene features actual penetration and I admit I am not sure why Carax thought this necessary as it adds nothing to the scene. My only thought is he would prefer the audience by shocked by the image rather than the incestuous love affair that was taking place.
Overall, I found Leos Carax’s “Pola X” a bit of a slog and hard going. It lacked the charm of his previous films and it is definitely my least favourite Carax film. That said the film has been well made with some great central performances from Depardieu and Golubeva, and some amazing visual moments. At the end of the day though I wasn’t really sure what Carax was trying to say with “Pola X”. I also felt the absence of Denis Lavant too. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, there is enough good in “Pola X” for Carax fans to get something out of it.