Following, in intimate detail, the making of an art star in her early days, Lea Glob’s Apolonia, Apolonia is a powerful meditation on art and evolution. At one early point in the film, reflecting on a new work, Apolonia Sokol speaks directly to the camera, telling us that with “identity and work, there is no difference.” While some films about artists start capturing their subject much later in life, Glob’s picture is a work of serendipity, keeping praise largely in the moment. There are no talking heads or curators to provide context, just the filmmaker and Glob narrating most of the film with the tone of a bedtime story, as if she’s telling her daughter about this mythical time and figure in her life.

Linking her story with that of her subject, Glob observes Apolonia’s progress from a young woman living with her family in Lavoir Moderne Parisien to an internationally exhibited painter. Gaining notoriety in Paris after an influential art critic is invited to her MFA thesis show at Beaux-Arts de Paris, she subsequently moves to New York and later Los Angeles, where she’s encouraged to focus on the volume of her work by collector Stefan Simchowitz.

Churning out 10 paintings per month with the hope of, like a peer from a studio, making $50,000 per painting, Appoloina struggles with authenticity and the commodification of her work. She comments, “I’m an industrial product now. I’m not going to be cool to any of my friends anymore” after a big LA opening.

For Glob, who is a few years older than her subject, the documentary is largely a stroke of luck as she follows her instincts, first interested in an eccentric family that raised their daughter in a theater with the goal of having her walk in the footsteps of great painters. But one could say Apolonia, born in 1988, was already destined for performing and making art: in addition to documenting her birth, her parents also taped her conception and left the VHS for her with instructions she should not watch it until she was 18. 

As the film unpacks, much of Apolonia’s work is informed by her family––though considered French, the artist credits her grandmother’s journey from Belarus to Siberia (and eventually Poland) as a key to unlocking her work. Her first-generation Polish mother fled to Denmark and eventually Paris. In grad school, Apolonia meets and starts a relationship with another star, Oksana, a revolutionary activist from Ukraine exiled for protesting Petro Poroshenko’s pro-Russian government. Oksana further informs Apolonia’s work, despite an admission she’s intimidated by the young, beautiful woman who’s already been featured on the cover of magazines.

With a handheld DV camera checking in from time to time, Apolonia, Apolonia is more interested in life and family history than the byproduct of the art. With the benefit of a decade-and-a-half’s access to her subject, we subsequently watch Apolonia come of age, from the impulsive young woman ready to take off her clothes in front of an inflatable butt plug installation to her settling down, and her ultimate choice to cease filming with Glob in the wake of tremendous pain. Throughout the process, Glob includes herself, offering a meditation on the making of the project––what it means as she personally navigates both motherhood and health challenges.

Those seeking a skeleton key into the body of work of an artist will probably find something significantly more interesting in Glob’s film, which incorporates a direct cinema and fly-on-the-wall approach until it can no longer. After spending so much time with Apolonia, Glob’s discomfort with the process is ever-present, creating a mosaic of the moments of hard work, triumph, and human connection that lead to an impressive body of work.

Apolonia, Apolonia screened at DOC NYC 2023.

Grade: B

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