Pola X (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's comments in white

Pola X is an acronym. It means "Pierre, Ou Les Ambiguities, 10th Draft". Oh, how precious. It's a novel written by Melville shortly after he finished Moby Dick.

If ever there was an author and a filmmaker that deserved one another, it is Herman Melville and Leos Carax. 

I don't know how much you know about Melville. Everyone knows who he is, and everyone knows the general plot outline of Moby Dick. Most of us were supposed to read it in high school, but nobody ever did, mainly because it is completely unreadable. Melville's prose is static, and his digressions are infinitely long and uninteresting. He had the core of a great story, with some powerful symbolism, and the tale sounds great when one person relates it to another, but the book is just pure anguish to read. The Cliff's Notes and Classics Comics version of this book must be the best sellers ever, because I've never met anyone who got through the entire book. I had to read it for an undergrad course in "The 19th century Novel". I didn't, of course. I got through about 60 chapters (there are 135 in all), then skimmed through the rest of the crap until I found points where I sensed something might be happening. (Melville could go on for ten chapters just talking about whaling technicalities.)

Since not many people have ever read Melville, not even English teachers, very few people realize that he was a truly and deeply disturbed man. I guarantee that if you met him on the streets, you'd lock your doors that night, and tell your children to sleep in your bed for safety. If you actually start to look at his characters, read their physical descriptions, study their behavior, and listen to what they say, you will realize that their creation is the work of a profoundly crazed person. I mean the prophet Jeremiah would find this guy to be a bit of a gloomy Gus. Luckily, his writing style is so bad that nobody ever reads his work, and therefore nobody really has to come to grips with his lunacy.

This particular novel is one I have never read. Has anyone? It was so deeply demented that it wasn't even available in America until a few years back. I just read a summary of the novel, but since the movie follows the novel quite closely, except for updating the story to the present day, I'm just going to summarize the movie, and you'll get the idea.

Pierre is a rich lad who lives with his mother on their country estate. They have an unusual relationship. They call each other "my love" and "my brother", and Pierre has long conversations with mom while she is naked. Of course, if your mom was Catherine Deneuve, this might seem a bit more sensible than with your own mom, but it is still pretty damned loony. Pierre has money, plans to marry a sweet and beautiful woman, and is already a successful published author under a pseudonym.

But, gosh darn it, he wants to be a real writer, not some kind of popular-ass Grade Z Tom Clancy, and he longs for a way to find the authenticity that would make him a Dostoevsky. He finds it all right. A mysterious wraith of a young woman stalks him, and they eventually encounter each other. She speaks in fragmented sentences like a three year old, in a mysterious spooky ghost voice and a thick Russian accent. She has rotten teeth, and claims that she is Pierre's half-sister, abandoned by their father and forced to live like a feral. She then recounts some tale of woe, of wandering from home to home as a child, a tale that ends with the soldiers burning their village. Apparently the screenwriter has forgotten that the story has been updated to the present day, and that the wild girl must therefore have been born around 1980. European soldiers have not burned down that many villages in the past few years. Even the Germans and Russians are cutting back because of budgetary constraints.

Pierre doesn't seem to spot any loopholes in her story, however, and he decides she's just the muse he needs. So he gives up his girlfriend, his money, his mom, and his popular writing, all to go live in subway tunnels with his alleged sister. Except that they don't live as brother and sister. They become lovers. They seem to have an exceptionally explicit love scene, except that the lighting is so poor that it could be a farmer milking a goat, but I think the noises indicated a female human having an orgasm rather than a goat bleating. Understandably, Pierre doesn't kiss her that much, because of the whole rotten teeth thing, but he brings her to orgasm by going down on her, although it is apparent she has not bathed in years. Yummy!

As time goes on, they are booted from every fleabag corner they try to live in, and finally find a home in an unheated abandoned warehouse on the docks, in which a demented orchestra plays some industrial-strength headbanger music 24/7. Although the skid row philharmonic has a maestro, the only instruments seem to be electric guitars, synthesizers, and makeshift drums based upon old factory artifacts. Their tunes have no melody. 

Also, there are family secrets hidden behind a bricked-up door, cousins shooting each other in the streets of Paris, homeless children, people wearing top hats and long overcoats for no reason, incest, and other overwrought devices.

Well, ol' Pierre ends up writing the first few chapters of his great novel and sending it to his publisher, who writes back and says "Dear Pierre. This is complete lunatic ranting. Have a happy day. Your friend, Jean-Jacques-Henri-Maurice. P.S. - I've moved. No forwarding address."

I presume that what the editor read was actually the script for this film.

Then some people get killed and the feral baby-talking sister is run over by a truck.

The End

 Tuna's comments in yellow

French film maker Leos Carax took a novel by Herman Mellville so bad that nobody had bothered to publish it, Pierre, or the Ambiguities, wrote nine presumably even worse screen plays, then turned the tenth version into this masterpiece.

A young man of privilege who has published a successful fluff novel under a pseudonym lives in an odd and possibly incestuous relationship with his mother, and is due to marry his cousin. This is the normal part of the story.

After dreaming of a woman with dark, unkempt hair for several nights, he meets the woman, who relates some strange story explaining that she is his half sister. So, of course, he must give up everything for her. When he tries to check into a hotel with her, she is refused because of her stench. Presumably, that makes her all the more desirable. They become lovers and move into a terrorist training camp with a mother/daughter that seem to hang with them but are never quite explained. There he sets about writing the great French novel. He fails. His rich and privileged girlfriend/cousin then moves in with them. Then the sister gets hit by a truck.

Not only is the story completely unmotivated and ridiculous, but the film is technically a mess as well.  If you decide to see it anyway, don't say I didn't warn you.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1. A good transfer. Some scenes are breathtakingly good.

  • Full-length commentary by lead actor Guillaume Depardieu

  • Two expanded scenes



  • Catherine Deneuve is clearly topless in good light for a lingering shot.
  • Yekaterina Golubyova does a poorly lit but very explicit sex scene with Guillaume Depardieu, including gyno shots and an erect penis. The scene was actually done with a female body double (Depardieu's girlfriend)
  • Delphine Chuillot's nipple slips out of her nightgown briefly.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 3/4, InsideOut UK 2/5

  • Frighteningly, this was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.8. That is not high, but is about triple what it should be. This film is complete merde, but overblown pseudo-intellectual hogwash is often wildly overrated at IMDb.
  • With their dollars ... it was never on more than four screens at one time, and grossed less than $200,000. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an E (Scoop) to E- (Tuna).

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