Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Pola X is Carax's adaptation of Melville's Pierre (yes, the author of Moby Dick). The film manages to be as wild and impenetrable as the novel. Themes of incest, love, death mingle casually. The protagonist has everything and discards it all. He sheds his wealthy garb and descends into the other world, the world that has always writhed at his feet.

Unlike most descents into madness and hell, this story has a peculiar quality to it. His quest, his attempt to find the "great lie" that flows like a muddy undercurrent, is not as he believes, the quest for a universal, a shared and vital preoccupation. It is as we discover merely his own tangled misconceptions, his naivete about the mechanics of the world and about the slime-covered rocks upon which he has always planted his feet.

Ultimately, the protagonist of Pola X is like a hermit who emerges into civilization and informs us tired inhabitants of his wide-eyed observations. Unless he can tell us something new, unless he can re-weave our scattered threads into somthing at once coherent and also miraculous and new, he will lose our attention. Not every stranger is a Gulliver or a De Tocqueville. Some are just lost and wandering souls.

I saw this after Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) in what was for me a micro-festival of French cinema. These two films are unalike. Whereas images of Pola X will quickly fade, the images from Vagabond will stay with me for a long time.

The wandering soul in Vagabond, a young homeless French woman, is not pretending to be anything other than what she is. The film collects her story as best as it can, the pieces of her life that she has left with strangers. Their attempts to define or understand her, to draw her character, are really statements about how they view themselves in the world and how she has redefined them. In this sense, she is like a mirror to others.

The girl from vagabond is compelling because she is frighteningly real. The film has the feel of a documentary and I walked away from it stunned at the questions it had slyly posed. Who are we besides the impression we have left with others? Some who encounter her despise her lack of self-regard; others envy her freedom. What does it mean to be free and what shackles have we already accepted and tucked beneath our sleeves?

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