Apolonia, Apolonia chronicles 13 years from filmmaker Lea Glob’s first encounter with the titular protagonist to the present day. Initially conceived as a project for her film school, Glob was tasked with creating a filmic portrait of a person, and her interests led her to a young Apolonia Sokol, not yet then the esteemed painter she is today. Early portions of the film showcase Sokol’s bohemian upbringings, having been raised in a community of dissident artists by her theater-owning parents. The audience is even privy to Sokol’s moment of conception thanks to a sex-tape her parents filmed for her to watch after she turned 18 (Sokol watched it prior to their requested age). That single anecdote is largely illustrative of the world Sokol came up in, as painted by Glob. The viewer is granted extraordinary access to the proverbial birth of an artist, from her literal home video birth sequence to her graduation from the esteemed Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts de Paris.
This, of course, is only the setup for the film’s primary tension. Sokol, despite graduating from such prestige, was not selected for her school’s exhibition of its most promising artists. To the untrained (and, apparently, trained) eye, Sokol’s student paintings don’t seem so extraordinary as she is. Sokol remarks on this herself, that the jury who was selecting the esteemed artists for exhibition loved her but found her art lacking. For Sokol, perhaps it was a curse to be born such an interesting person — she naturally attracts attention from the art world, but her paintings never live up to the promise of her personality. The most compelling parts of the film see Sokol contend with this reality, that for as many opportunities as she’s been provided and institutions she’s been granted access to, her paintings are often just not good. She over-promises and under-delivers, to the point that the audience surely must be questioning amongst themselves, can she ever be a good artist? And it seems that every gallery opening, art critic, and new residency takes Sokol further from her goal.
The film resolves itself by jumping through time, which is a frustrating conclusion to the investment the audience has made into Sokol’s development as an artist. Suddenly, without explanation or context, Sokol has become a great artist. The film takes an introspective turn as Glob narrates her own troubled pregnancy and attachments to the film and Sokol. In many ways, Glob’s interjections of narration throughout seem to be more limiting than anything; the director clearly knows how to compose a shot and she effectively marks the passage of time in montage, but her perspective of these events is clouded by her attachment to Sokol. In function, the narration more often comes across as a friend desperately grasping at straws of potential in order to convince the audience that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Sokol is capable of greatness.
This structuring leaves an unmissable hole, and one merely wishes they were privy to the events that suddenly changed Sokol’s trajectory and launched her meteoric rise into stardom. Her work is characterized by its overt political messaging, however much of Sokol’s own politics seems to be absent from the film. There are references to various political movements that she had been associated with, but no further interrogation of her beliefs. Sokol believes her portraits are political, but the film, curiously, doesn’t. And it’s this that is the film’s primary failing: its lack of insight into exactly what it is that makes the artist great. For all the failures the audience sees Sokol overcome, they see little of her successes and understand even less of them. Glob, at Apolonia‘s end, finds herself in a similar position to an earlier Sokol, having delivered a product brimming with promise that winds up lacking in its final strokes.
DIRECTOR: Lea Glob; CAST: Apolonia Sokol; DISTRIBUTOR: Grasshopper Film; IN THEATERS: January 12; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 56 min.