DOC NYC 2023 Review: A Life Becomes a Work of Art in Lea Glob’s “Apolonia, Apolonia”

In “Apolonia, Apolonia,” director Lea Glob recalls being unable to see the point in sitting still for her grandfather, a painter in Denmark who promised her that the discipline required to pose for one of his paintings would eventually pay off in immortality, though as she says, “The only eternity I experienced was the long wait.” Still, something about that idea clearly resonated with the filmmaker who couldn’t entirely know what she was getting into when she began to film Apolonia Sokol, a young artist around the same age as herself, for a student thesis film and kept filming well after the two of them graduated from their respective academies, with the camera trained on her subject at all times, but in retrospect, telling as much a story about the person behind it as well, and of what it is like for anyone to pursue a life in the arts.

Thirteen years is packed into just under two hours in Glob’s shimmering profile of Sokol, who was used to being filmed well before Glob showed up in her life. As she proudly shows the director on VHS, her very conception was documented by her parents – to the point where you see her father taking off his pants – as well as her birth and she literally grew up on a stage when the family owned a theater in Paris. Still, it tells you something immediately that Apolonia picks up a paintbrush to express herself rather than enter the family business, an activity that connects her to her Bohemian parents while rebelling against them, resembling them even more in some ways, and the path to becoming her own person is inevitably lonely, though with Glob filming her, you feel like they’re both working through something together as they move through their twenties.

Evolution can be heard in Glob’s occasionally tentative voiceover reflecting on all the two have gone through in retrospect, injecting bits of her own personal life that she doesn’t have images for when she was busy filming Apolonia, and one can see it in Apolonia’s paintings where portraits of people in her life grow more sophisticated with fewer brushstrokes, seemingly working less to capture their essence. Yet the extraordinary investment of time is able to evince other truths that are generally hard to come by as the two pursue their craft, with Apolonia unable to extract herself from various circumstances, the first being her parents’ theater, which she tries to save as it’s preyed upon by developers while she’s going to school, her relationship with Oksana, a fiery Ukrainian activist who has no other home but with her, and eventually self-doubt about her paintings as she starts to put work out for public consumption with the aim of finding patronage and gallery space for exhibits. The same things that can give Apolonia inspiration also serve to inhibit her as she thinks of others before herself, and Glob is able to vividly observe her growing a singular point of view that will distinguish her as an artist but also make her feel comfortable in her own skin, a perspective that you suspect the director only could have recently as well, crafting a radiant closeup after having a little distance from the events covered.

“Apolonia, Apolonia” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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