Anna is used with permission from Dekel Berenson. Learn more at omele.to/38N5wAT.
Anna is a middle-aged single mother who lives in an impoverished industrial town in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. She works in a meat processing plant, lives in a rundown apartment and dreams of a better life for herself and her young 16-year-old daughter.
When she hears a radio ad for a party that will introduce her to foreign men looking for love, she decides to attend in hopes of finding a husband who can bring her and her daughter to America.
But the party doesn’t go as expected for Anna, who hasn’t been out in years. She is the oldest woman there, and the men she meets don’t have the best of intentions. When she spots her daughter at the party with a particularly lecherous man, Anna takes action against the indignity of the entire situation, with unexpected results.
Written and directed by Dekel Berenson, this Oscar-longlisted short drama has an artful naturalism, with its clear and steady eye for the social context of its characters. It combines social observation and visual acuity with a keen sense for the wryly absurd, which lends the storytelling richly ironic humor.
Long, steady shots rendered in bleak yet beautiful cinematography allow viewers to take in details of Anna’s life and character, and each image is composed with painterly care, starting with the striking rows of hanging animal carcasses that make up the backdrop of Anna’s job. The visuals suggest Anna is a marginal figure, even in her own life. In a telling incident, she walks past a group of men who catcall women passing them, but they ignore her entirely in favor of another younger woman passing. In society and her own life, she is invisible.
Actor Svetlana Alekseevna Barandich plays this self- and societal-effacement with matter-of-fact understatement and muted vulnerability. Despite her societal status, Anna isn’t a pitiful figure; she has the intrepidness and solidity of a single mother who has no choice but to keep going with life. But she is lonely, so she decides to attend a party where she hopes to meet an American suitor.
The party is the piece de resistance of the film, where the themes, characters and ideas that underlie the film deftly come together. Some images — such as Anna seated in a lineup, nestled among the much younger women at the party, or her dancing alone on the dance floor — have an astringent poignancy, particularly as they play out in wide shots of longer duration.
When Anna gets to sit down with a potential husband, however, the chasm between Anna’s dreams for her future and the man’s intentions become evident to the viewer, if not to Anna right away. The language gap — and the translator caught in the middle, who attempts to direct the conversation to everyone’s benefit — provide genius comedic insight into the asymmetry of power and expectations between the women and the men.
When Anna realizes what’s going on — and sees her underaged daughter falling victim to it — she has to act. In doing so, she sets off an unexpected contagion of action that culminates into an unexpectedly hilarious denouement that’s brilliant and memorable in both its comedy and its vivisection of sexual politics, global economics and gender expectations at the heart of this unofficial “market.” Then, in its final, evocative images, “Anna” ends its virtuosic high-wire act of intellect and emotion on a note of resonant sadness for the failed dreams of its titular character — and perhaps the American dream itself.
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Cannes: A single mother in war-torn Ukraine attends a dating event to meet American men. | Anna
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