Sydney Film Festival Review: Ana, mon amour (Romania, 2017) is an unflinching if uneven take on love surviving mental health

In many ways, Cãlin Peter Netzer’s latest feature Ana, mon amour provides an elegantly poignant dissection of when solicitude collides with mental illness. It is unflinchingly explicit, raw in its psychoanalysis and mostly effectual to the ideals it is aiming to exude. Although, dissimilar to Netzer’s previous film, the Golden Bear winning Child’s Pose, the thematic heft of Ana, mon amour hinders due to patent unevenness. In essence, the film proves it’s own best friend and at times worst enemy, ironically like the couple in focus. The film enthrals within its state of realism and impressive performances. Yet, the audacious commitment to story structure tends to stagnate the sense of immersion. Ultimately crafting a film that is undeniably clever and worth seeing, yet, one that isn’t entirely tenable either.

Set throughout the various junctures of their union, Ana, mon Amour chronicles the relationship between Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) and Ana (Diana Cavallioti). The film commences in a philosophical debate between the pair of grad students, and as soon as we’re made to feel relaxed in what appears to be no more than a flirtatious meeting, Ana succumbs to an anxiety attack. They are quick to fall in love, but as the opening moment dictates, it comes with both tenderness and tribulation. Against the backdrop of an older Toma conversing with a psychotherapist, the film explores the pivotal notions of their tumultuous relationship over the course of a decade. Highlighting the tenacity that human proclivity and mental illness can inflict on love.

Ana, mon amour is a highly compelling film, yet, at times, it can also be rather frustrating. The film adopts a non-linear structure to apprise its story, shuffling between various stages of the coupledom throughout. The concept has the possibility to heighten the vehemence of the narrative, as it has done in films such as Blue Valentine and Nocturnal Animals which embraced the same structure. But unlike said films, the incentive of this structural decision becomes more perplexing than anything else. This is largely due to the multifarious amount of stages the film explores, making it somewhat inexact to detail the jumps with fluency. The structure detracts the coherency of the plot and to a point that decreases the film’s earnestness is how the reliance on the state of Toma’s balding becomes so vital. The manner in which the story is told is far from pitiful, but it is heavily distracting. Eliciting confusion than it does conviction, the execution of structure ultimately constrains the film.

The film also makes for an overly long duration that wanes its level of urgency. While the film is driven by its fascinatingly quite approach, Ana, mon amour can’t escape feeling, at times, like a bit of a slog. No scene appears unnecessary, but the manner in which plot points are jettisoned into the film appears as though it wouldn’t have been too detrimental if it were excluded. As the film is operated solely by its unorthodox structure and dialogue, the elongated nature of it all can boarder on tedious, creating a potential fade to the stature of ideals. The film never threatens to collapse under that notion, nonetheless in regards to pacing, Ana, mon amour and the approach of more is more, doesn’t add as much punch as it believes it does.

Granted, despite these impediments, there is so much within Ana, mon amour that works magnificently. The film is an endless myriad of lengthy sequences driven by character interaction, and to it’s benefit, on many occasions the material is haunting and quietly intense. The tight state in which Netzer shoots these conversations feels like a probe, the camera becomes so fixed, the subject matter makes us feel entrapped with our protagonist. A memorable sequence involves Toma going to confession and although he wreaks of liquor, the discussion between him and Father Adrien (Vlad Ivanov) illuminates the pinnacle of cognisance that Netzer has permeated into the talk-heavy screenplay. Consistently sapient (and at times a bit of a wake-up), the construction to which dialogue drives the film’s themes and narrative is wisely portrayed.

Nevertheless, none of this particularly matters if the characters aren’t investing, and luckily for the film, Postelnicu and Cavallioti deliver tantalising performances. In a minimalistic cast, both excel and the ability to which Postelnicu manifests Toma’s evolving disposition is achieved remarkably. But it’s Cavallioti who is the standout. The actress is given a difficult task, in having to divert between regular behaviour in one instance and resort to a fully-fledge panic attack shortly after. While one could struggle with that sense of transition, Cavallioti deftly balances a manifold of differing emotions adroitly. The film is driven by the dialogue shared between these two central characters, and the gravitas on display from these two are able to correlate a connection that feels truly authentic throughout. It increases the film’s resonance dramatically, providing the complex depth the film strives to maintain.

Ana, mon amour thrives when the film’s attention is directed from that sense of naturalism, with even the minuet details paving the way for appreciated nuance. The film’s nudity is excessive, yet, it is typical of reality. The camera doesn’t shy away from the moments a traditional romance would, but the underlying strength is that this direction makes the characters arcs feel earned. The occasionally perturbing imagery and usage of sex, for some may be gratuitous, but it tends to exemplify where Ana, mon amour is at it’s most clinical. Providing a realistic romance through elucidating inherent normalities that are both gracious and unpleasant. On the basis of depicting people, the film’s presentation of characters is strikingly done. And given how vital that component is to the narrative, it is a monumental achievement.

Even though it isn’t without its flaws, Ana, mon amour still provides a fairly rewarding experience spearheaded by terrific performances and its strong deliverance on a pragmatic tone. Yes, it does feel overly long and yes the non-linear structure inclines to work more against the film rather than for it. However, although it doesn’t always hit the mark, Netzer’s clear desire to craft a film that is deep and profound is largely able to override the inadequate nature of his boldness. Ana, mon amour is able to get a lot right thanks to the strength of its core ideals and how seamlessly these actors are able to imbue the intended identity of the material. Although the drawbacks are significant, it is still worth the price of admission.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ana, mon amour held its Australian premiere at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival last night, it has another screening on the 12th of June.

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