Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu) is a highly successful writer whose latest book has caught the imagination of the younger generation, leaving him exceedingly well off. He still lives with his mother Marie (Catherine Deneuve) in their lavish country house, and his fiancée lives in similar luxury nearby, but soon there gets to be a strange malaise overtaking the man. It begins with a dream of a woman with long, tangled hair, a woman he catches sight of one day while out having a drink and somehow recognises as the same one who was caught rifling through his garbage recently. Then there are the silent phone calls Marie has been getting: it's almost as if Pierre is being watched...
Hmm, the story of an artist who does very well capturing the spirt of romance for a substantial cult of followers only to suffer chronic dissatisfaction? And therefore create a work which is willfully difficult and uncommercial as a result? Could auteur Leos Carax be trying to tell us something? This was the long-awaited follow up to Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, but it had a far more blatant "pity the poor artist" theme running through it, often to the point of unintentional hilarity. Beginning with an apparently idyllic setting and gradually making it more twisted, Pola X ended up looking ridiculous.
Which is a shame, as there's no doubt that Carax was sincere in his endeavours, but perhaps he simply got too close to the material: it can be good to take a step back every once in a while. It was ostensibly an updating of a Herman Melville novel, "Pierre, or the Ambiguities", that went through ten rewrites, hence the X in the title (maybe Pola XI would have been more accomplished?). The most notorious aspect about the film was that it contained a short sequence of hardcore sex, although those hoping to get the full benefit of pornography in mainstream cinema would be disappointed that it was shot in such gloom that any detail was very difficult to make out.
What happens to the stressed Pierre is that when he finally makes contact with the mystery woman, whose name she claims is Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva), he undergoes a mental crisis. This is because she also claims that she is his illegitimate half sister whose existence has been hitherto unknown by him, or it would seem anybody else. Why he accepts what she says without question, in a weird scene where she tells him her supposed background in a high pitched drone of broken French while walking through the woods, is never explained and it's also a major problem with the credibility of the plotline.
Nevertheless, Pierre decides that the high life is not one for him any longer and leaves his mother and fiancée Lucie (Delphine Chuillot) behind for an existence of poverty in the big city with Isabelle, with only the racket of industrial musicians for comfort in their pokey room. The fall from luxury and comfort to abject degradation was presumably meant to have us pondering, but what it actually has us musing is what an utter, self-regarding fool Pierre is. His pretensions reduce him to scribbling out his new novel - wrapped in blankets in the freezing bedsit - under a pen name, and generally moping about (he even develops a limp, a sure sign of desperation). Along the way there are such risible sights as Deneuve riding (and crashing) a motorbike and the publisher's response to the new work, which is nothing short of side-splitting in its determination to grind Pierre down. So saturated in misery is Pola X that it becomes ludicrous; it would be funnier if there wasn't a talent like Carax self-destructing behind the camera. Music by Scott Walker (yes, that Scott Walker).
Stylish, semi-improvisational French writer-director, a former critic who developed from short films into features with the well regarded Boy Meets Girl. However, it was the futuristic romance Mauvais Sang that really awarded him international attention and all looked well for his lavish love story follow up, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. Unfortunately it was a failure and it was the end of the nineties before his subsequent film, family drama Pola X, arrived. Carax's cult following increased when after making short films for the next decade he completed his curious, much discussed feature Holy Motors which delighted and confounded in equal measure. Often works with Denis Lavant.