From our continental correspondent – Translation, please : Polina

Published On September 28, 2011 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent

Polina Oulinov is a very young girl who is taken on as a special pupil by the famous ballet teacher professor Bojinski.  He is a very demanding educator, who refuses to adapt his standards to the talents of his pupils, and Polina has to work hard and make great sacrifices in order reach the level Bojinski senses she has the talent for.   When she graduates and is admitted to the official theatre school, she discovers that Bojinski’s view on ballet is only one of many, and that she can’t adapt (yet) to new rules, new visions.  She flees the country and hooks up with a number of theatre students.  Together they create a new type of theatre that conquers the world, including her own hometown.

Polina is the latest book of bright young French cartoonist Bastien Vivès (his Le goût du chlore was part of the official selection at the Festival of Angoulême in 2009), or rather, one of the latest, since he has become very productive, lately.  It is a very moving and intimate story of self-realisation and personal development, and of how external influences have an impact on your personal growth, whether you like it or not.

That may sound rather heavy-handed, and that would be doing the book a grave injustice.  Vivès’s style is not one for telling, but rather suggesting.  For Vivès there’s no need for emotional eruptions or clashes – the great upheavals are all in the background (sometimes literally, when another young hopeful decides to quit dancing), or are merely hinted at.  What may seem like a very lighthearted, superficial story, is in fact a very gripping tale of a young girl in the maelstrom of psychological development.

Vivès likes to suggest things without actually showing them, and that translates into his art.  His panels are like vague memories of an actual scene, sketched in a wandering line.  Settings are hinted at with a few lines, faces are only drawn when effectively necessary for a good understanding of the story, and when there’s no need for extra drawings, the page is left blank.  For a book about dance, there’s remarkably little movement in this book, as Vivès prefers to freeze the action, and here too, suggest the difficult exercises or remarkable dance moves, rather than actually draw them.

If Polina were a novel, it would be a world-wide hit, and doubtless about to be made into a must-see movie version.  It is profound, amusing at times, light-hearted but never bland.  It is one of the best literary comics I’ve read in a long time, and it really must be translated.

Polina by Bastien Vives.  Editions Casterman, 2011.  206 p., ISBN 978-2-203-02613-1

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