Pola X: A French Incest Classic

10/10/2012 4:00 AM |

Pola X (1999)
Directed by Leos Carax
October 13 and 15 at 92YTribeca

Based on Herman Melville’s amusingly eccentric, forbidding novel Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, Leos Carax‘s loose movie adaptation used the tenth draft of his script, and the film’s title, with its sexy roman numeral, was a reference to this draft but also hinted that the material was “X-rated.” The first half of Pola X involves the erotic blond-versus-blond interplay between restless Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu) and his controlling, sensual mother Marie (Catherine Deneuve). All the creamy images of decadence and hedonism in these mother-son scenes soon give way to the psychotic mutterings of Pierre’s lost sister Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva), who fills our hero in on her tortured past in a very long scene that will either mesmerize you or try your patience.

Much was made at the time over the graphic sex scene between Pierre and his sister, which takes place in a darkened industrial space and heralded a new sexual realism in French film. Golubeva ceded her place in this sex scene to a stand-in, but Depardieu chose to do the sex himself, eating out his on-screen sister with a hunger and a need that exemplify his fully committed performance. As time goes by, Pola X can perhaps most fruitfully be seen as a film about the tragic Depardieu, who died at the age of 37 (Golubeva recently died, too, of “causes unknown”). Carax doesn’t always seem to know what he’s doing here, but the angelic and damned Depardieu certainly does, and his guiding presence gives the film much weight and poignancy.