Anna opens with an image that is as powerful as it is blunt: a room full of meat hanging on hooks. A visual poem, Dekel Berenson’s moving and profound film conveys the essence of a woman’s life, and a perspective on the life of her community and country in its brief, 15-minute running time. The editing and pace are precise, each scene is loaded with impact, beautifully composed and filmed in vibrant hues, with lighting that enhances yet never imposes. At its core is Svetlana Alekseevna Barandich as Anna: evoking the viewer’s empathy from the first, the suspense mounts as one follows her narrative.
45-year-old Anna is a single mother working in a meat factory in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. Her job is monotonous and far from pleasant as she stands and cuts meat for hours on end, her only diversion the radio playing equally monotonous music in the background. Home is a cramped, dilapidated apartment that feels joyless, and there, she tries to be a responsible mother to a teenage daughter clearly yearning for her freedom as most teens do. The striking disparity between the beautiful, spirited girl and the mother, with resignation etched into her features, is almost painful to watch. As one wonders if Anna, who carries her years like a heavy burden, was once as lithe and alert as her lovely daughter, one cannot escape the thought that the young girl’s future will very likely resemble her mother’s life.
And yet, Anna is not entirely bereft of hope. As the radio drones on at work, an announcement catches her attention. Barandich portrays the nuances of Anna’s character with such sensitivity – although her hands continue their endless labor, the expression in her eyes reflects Anna’s attentive listening. It’s a flicker of hope, a light that flashes for an instant, revealing the dreams and hopes within her heart. The Foreign Love Tour is coming to town, organizing a party for the visiting American men to meet Ukrainian women.
The company representative who comes to meet Anna is an attractive woman in a tailored red coat trimmed with a fur collar, her dark hair in an elegant upsweep. Looking around, approaching with measured steps, she barely glances at Anna, clearly this fat, older woman cannot possibly be the person she is looking for. But Anna sees her and calls out to her. These small moments are so eloquent, as Anna takes agency, despite the limitations that one can only guess at – lack of education, money, and opportunity, compounded perhaps by gender discrimination – imposed on her life by the circumstances into which she was born. The woman is reluctant at first, questioning whether Anna meets the age requirement. But what remains unspoken, yet clear, is the understanding that Anna’s body does not conform to contemporary ideals of beauty.
There are some beautiful moments in the film. As Anna prepares to go out, she sits in her underclothes, filing her nails, bathed in the warm glow of afternoon sunlight and anticipation. I love the scene at the party in which Anna is dancing, at one with the music. The party scenes reveal magnitudes. The women sit in a row, waiting. All except Anna are young and thin. Men walk by and look them over. Women’s bodies are commodities, and the leaner the cut, the greater its value. At one point, Anna has a conversation with a man, aided by a translator (Alina Chornogub), whose selective and creative translation is both amusing and thought-provoking.
The denouement is unexpected, dramatic, and evokes a complex mix of feelings. Svetlana Alekseevna Barandich delivers a terrific performance as Anna, one admires her even as one aches for her. Anna is a quiet gem, merging the personal and political with reverberations that take the film beyond the scope of an individual life to comment on the status of women in the Ukraine, the impact of war on the lives of women, and the predators who exploit their vulnerability.
Anna is nominated for an Ophir Award in the category of Best Short Feature. The award winners will be announced in a special program of Culture Agent, on Friday, November 13, 2020 at 15:00 (Israel time) on the Kan11 channel.
Ukraine/UK/Israel, 2019, 15 min, Ukranian and English
Written and directed by Dekel Berenson; Editing: Yegor Tronyanovsky; Cinematography: Volodymyr Ivanov; Cast: Svetlana Alekseevna Barandich, Anastasia Vyazovskaya, Alina Chornogub