Ana, mon amour, dir. Călin Peter Netzer│ Having already fallen in love with Ana, mon amour at Berlinale this year, I was saddened to find that it was beginning to experience a bit of backlash in its native country by the time it reached The Romanian Days section of the 16th Transilvanian Film Festival. Some of the detractors I spoke to would calmly tell me that it felt like a film purely for export. Others would say that some of its awful acting would be lost in translation, or that the film’s Freudian premises were ridiculous. Perhaps some of this is true, but I refuse to be swayed: Călin Peter Netzer’s Ana, mon amour is everything I ever wanted a film to be – I just hadn’t realised it yet.
Based on Cezar Paul-Bădescu’s novel Luminiţa, mon amour (the change in title being one of the reasons why some Romanians felt it had clearly been tweaked for export), Netzer’s fourth feature tells the story of a relationship between two somewhat neurotic university students. Principally we see their romance from the perspective of the young Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) – a devoted, but intense literature student who dreams of becoming a writer. Alongside him sits the adorable, but unstable Ana (Diana Cavallioti), as they tipsily meet for the first time in their new university dorm.
They sit and discuss the interpretation of Nietzsche’s beliefs under the NAZIS, whilst a couple has raging, loud sex next door. Suddenly, Ana experiences a panic attack (the first sign of any instability), but she soon recovers and Toma begins to fall for her. Erratically, we then flit through the couple’s honeymoon period, from a drunken Future Islands concert (a band who return as a recurring soundtrack to their relationship), to Toma’s first introduction to Ana’s intimidating parents. The latter is a particularly wonderful scene, where Toma has to share a tiny bed with Ana’s bullish, protective father as he vigorously slathers ointment onto his thick varicose veins.
Certainly, it all seems like rather haphazard and erratic, but this film’s storytelling style is actually much more than that. Before long we slam into another scene, where a visibly aged Toma reclines hesitantly in a therapist’s chair. Everything we have watched up until this point has been part of a free-associating of a psychoanalytic counselling session
Now park any reservations you may have about psychoanalysis for a moment, and picture for yourself how painfully exquisite it is to see the glorious, delight honeymoon scenes between Ana and Toma slam brutally into a juxtaposition: their potentially thorny future of unhappiness together. I even think Postelnicu’s or Cavallioti’s do a great job of pulling it all off too, as they tumultuously fluctuate between the good and the bad times.
But it all becomes even more complex or dreamlike when some scenes which feel so lucidly real from within the relationship actually turn out to be dreams recounted by Toma. Perhaps this all sounds chaotic, and perhaps it sounds too cerebral or inwardly focused for some tastes. Perhaps the way in which the film drives characters to lectures or therapists can even seem like too obvious a device. But I swear, the chemistry between the characters, and the way the film relives what feels so tangibly like a relationship breakdown makes every scriptwriting indulgence worthwhile.
If anything, I found the way in which Ana, mon amour microstudies the irrationality and shifts of a long-term relationship completely spellbinding. The actors’ performances within that are almost too close to the bone – too psychologically realistic. You really get sucked into the sudden unexpected shifts, parallels and contradictions too, thanks to the incredible editing of Dana Bunescu, which deservedly won a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution last February.
The film’s incredible camera work deserves more credit too, because it really makes you feel ever-present across the years of this incredibly passionate, unstable relationship. Plus it’s always filmed close up, capturing the characters’ emotional exposures in incredibly intimate detail. And what’s even more striking is the way the camera always behaves like a human eye: it continuously jerks and moves, reacting to the smallest of movements or changes in the characters’ body language. The results are incredibly voyeuristic.
What is also particularly nice is the way Ana, mon amour incorporates a scene where the couple attend a lecture on the Onirists. The lesson follows the logic that the Surrealists added dream elements to their work in a manner which allowed them to explore the experience of a dream-like reality; meanwhile the Onirists attempted to capture and relate their dreams automatically, as if in a waking state with absolute lucidity, to see what that would reveal about their own psychological reality. Once we’ve seen this, all of the film’s formal decisions begin to nicely make sense, and the consequences are very thought-provoking.
The way the editing compartmentalises scenes in the film is also really wonderful, as it really exposes the inconsistencies of human love – the contradictions and paradoxes. In one moment the characters will be discussing the idea of Nietzsche’s hedonistic, strong and selfish individuals, but in the very next we will see both of them behaving like absolute martyrs to each other’s needs. Particularly cathartic too is the way that the film’s chronology reveals the relationship at its worst side by side with the moments that made that relationship so important to them. It really makes you think back on your own misfortunes and consider why they meant so much to you, and why you went through with them.
In a real feat of structuring, though, the movie still builds towards a linear message about the way loving relationships can completely change things that we held as certain. This really is a film for anyone who has ever been through an all-consuming relationship or break-up and isn’t afraid to relive it. Ana, mon amour captures perfectly the ways in which a couple can need each other and simultaneously make each other completely mad.
And Ana, mon amour shows very clearly Netzer’s familiarity the intensity of the therapeutic process, and baring his feelings. I just sincerely hope that the film isn’t meeting adverse reactions in Romania because of this reason. That there isn’t an underlying aversion to the idea of therapy itself, or to raking through the coals of our own emotions; because there are so many ways in which we can all do that, and none of them should be written off simply for being fanciful or experimental.■
│In cooperation with│
Ana, mon amour│ Director: Călin Peter Netzer│ Screenplay: Călin Peter Netzer, Cezar Paul Bădescu, Iulia Lumânare│ Camera: Andrei Butică│ Editing: Dana Bunescu│ Music: -│ Cast: Mircea Postelnicu, Diana Cavallioti, Carmen Tănase│ Producer: Călin Peter Netzer, Oana Iancu, Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo, Sophie Dulac, Michel Zana│ Production Company: Parada Film, augenschein Filmproduktion, Sophie Dulac Productions│Country: Romania / Germany / France │ Year: 2017│ Running Time: 127 min.│ International Sales: Beta Film│ Festival: Transilvania IFF 2017│