Moscow, early 1990s. Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova), aged 8, is a gifted ballerina. From a modest background she joins the prestigious school of Professor Bojinsky, who trains dancers for the Bolshoi. He immediately grasps her tremendous potential and makes her work so hard that at only 18 her dream finally comes true and she enters the prestigious Bolshoi.
This is when she meets Adrien, a charming French dancer. He helps her discover not only love but, more importantly, a new form of dance – more contemporary and expressive. A kind of dance that will change her life forever.
From Moscow to Aix-En-Provence and Antwerp, from success to disillusion, we follow Polina’s incredible destiny. Academy award winning French actress Juliette Binoche portrays the choreographer Liria Elsaj who challenges Polina to explore her creativity in a daring and original way.
Angelin Preljocaj and Valerie Muller
Thank you for talking to Film Companion. I want to start by asking about the working relationship that both of you share. It’s the first time that you are working together. What kind of creative differences did you have?
Angelin Preljocaj – Right at the start, we divided our responsibilities. Valerie was in charge of writing the script and I looked after editing. During the shoot, Valerie took control of direction of the actors and I was concentrating on the camera and the movement. But after a week, we dissolved everything we planned and shared our work. We decided that it would be very interesting to mix our competencies
Weren’t there any arguments?
Valerie Muller – No, because for me it was a great opportunity to work with Angelin as I am a huge admirer of his choreographic work. Needless to say, he was very excited with all the dance movements in the film, so it took a lot of time to shoot those sequences. I would then interject and say that we need to wrap up. Maybe this was the only argument we had.
What were your expectations coming into the 1st International Film Festival and Awards-Macao?
VM – For us, it was a great opportunity to bring our movie to Asia, to the public in China. Maybe someday we will take the film to India. I think it’s a great idea to make an international film festival in Macao.
AP – Venice is nice, maybe for Europeans but Macao is very beautiful for this part of world and it’s incredible to have a film festival here.
Polina is based on the very popular graphic novel by Bastien Vives. How difficult was it to adopt the novel into a screenplay?
AP – The graphic novel is very beautiful but it’s kind of simple. To be very honest, Bastian gave us all the freedom we needed to make this film which made it very simple to do the adaptation. He left us with a lot of space because the novel has very little information about the environment of the characters, their background. This gave Valerie an opportunity to give a lot of flesh to the story.
What made you choose Juliette Binoche to play the role of lead choreographer in the film?
VM – We thought about Juliette at the very beginning because she used to work with this British – Indian choreographer Akram Khan and hence had some experience with dance. We knew that she used to train everyday and work on her body movements, so when we asked her, Juliette was very excited to play the role of the lead choreographer under the guidance of Angelin.
Polina also marks the debut of Anastasia Shetshova who’s a professional classical ballet dancer from Russian and a graduate from the Vaganova Academy.
How challenging was it to act in front of the camera for the first time?
Anastasia Shetshova – It was quite a new experience as I never did cinema before. These are such different spheres – for example, when you are dancing on the stage, you feel the reaction of the audience right at that moment. When you are acting, you have a chance to repeat the scene. This was very challenging for me.
Which is more challenging – dancing on stage or in front of camera?
AS – Physically, I think it was more difficult to dance in front of the camera. The last duet in the film had 28 takes and was quite long and laborious. To dance on stage is such a responsibility as you don’t have to chance to falter as there are second chances.
What was your experience of sharing screen space with Juliette Binoche?
AS – Juliette is a huge star in Russia too. In the beginning, it was quite stressful to play with her as I have never done this before. But as we eased into the shooting, it was absolutely amazing to act with her, because I observed a lot. Juliette also gave me a lot of advice on acting. She’s a very kind human being and a fantastic actress.
You are a classical ballet dancer, but in an interview you said that you prefer contemporary ballet more. Did this transformation happen during the film?
AS – There is a similarity between Polina and me – I still love classical ballet of course but contemporary ballet is something new. I understand it better because when I am dancing contemporary I can express myself easier than in classical ballet.
Post Polina, do you want to do more acting projects, or stick to dancing?
AS – Yeah, I would love to. I have a few casting calls in Russia so I hope something works out.
Watch the trailer of Polina here