Apolonia, Apolonia

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Apolonia Apolonia
"Glob confesses that she initially thought of Apolonia’s life as a fairy tale, something more like fiction than reality, but over the course of 13 long years she comes to recognise not only the humanity of her subject, but her own."

For every creatively talented individual who becomes famous – often struggling to afford the basics of life despite that – there are a hundred more who succeed in making a living but, in order to do so, devote their skills to work so routine and unchallenging that it does nothing to reveal what they’re really capable of. It’s easy to get trapped in that situation, having no time or energy left to create things that really matter, but sometimes food and rent have to come first. “Why buy the art when you can buy the artist?” asks director Lea Glob in this slow burning, highly personal documentary, as she watches young painter Apolonia Sokol give herself over to a commission for ten pieces per month.

This is just part of Apolonia’s story but, coming early in the film, it puts all the rest into perspective. Glob confesses that she initially thought of Apolonia’s life as a fairy tale, something more like fiction than reality, but over the course of 13 long years she comes to recognise not only the humanity of her subject, but her own. The two women’s lives intersect in ways she didn’t anticipate, raising questions about her own life choices. Doubt haunts them both. It’s easier to recognise destructive insecurity in somebody else, harder to face it in oneself.

Copy picture

Apolonia was born into this life, the daughter of actors, growing up in a theatre which we watch her try desperately to maintain in the fact of financial hardship. Like many artists, she flourishes in a communal living space with fellow creative spirits, including her Ukrainian girlfriend Oksana. It’s a way of life she can’t always maintain, partly due to the pressures of a society which wants her to follow a path that doesn’t fit her creative process. The process of moving into adulthood is fraught with danger, and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

Apolonia copes by chain smoking and lashing out about the unfairness of it all. Whilst this might be seen as childish, her perception of injustice is not unreasonable. She is measured and commodified in ways that don’t apply to her male peers. She is expected to offer a different kind of intimacy – which, of course, complicates her intimacy with Glob and with the camera, whose presence she always seems alert to, whether she’s playing up to it or sulkily ignoring it. Regardless, there’s an unselfconscious ease about her movements which is rare in young women. In one scene she rubs her face with a wonderful disregard for her appearance. This freedom which she has granted to herself would seem to be essential to her work – an yet, with many possibilities around her, she struggles to focus, to identify paths more worth pursuing than others.

In a world full of successful artists, many of them far less interesting, who are intent on inventing this kind of past for themselves, Apolonia’s story is refreshingly authentic. It's hedged about with the paraphernalia of the past. Through old Betamax tapes she observes her parents’ relationship before she was born, watches both her conception and her birth. We see her pulled from the womb, her umbilical cord still attached, looking at the camera with curious eyes. The greatest mystery that Glob’s work has to offer is who is watching who.

Reviewed on: 11 Jan 2024
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Apolonia, Apolonia packshot
Portrait of larger-than-life visual artist Apolonia Sokol.

Director: Lea Glob

Writer: Lea Glob, Andreas Bøggild Monies

Starring: Hervé Breuil, Lea Glob, Oksana Shachko, Apolonia Sokol, Alexandra Tlolka

Year: 2022

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: Denmark, Poland, France


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