QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
Anna’s family has been killed by the Nazis. The bodies are piled up on top of each under a thin layer of soil. Yet the young girl (played by Marta Kozlova) has miraculously survived. She finds shelter in a large disused building. She hides mostly inside the chimney and in the attic. She has to fend for herself for the remaining duration of the War.
Anna’s War is almost entirely devoid of dialogue. The director made the audacious creative choice not to use any subtitles at all. Except very briefly in the beginning of the film when Anna is found and identified as an “Yid” and then again in the end of the movie, when her hiding spot is briefly uncovered by a local Russian (who decides not to hand her in). Presumably, the girl only spoke Yiddish and the director wanted to emphasise her alienation by rendering the dialogues incomprehensible (unless you speak Russian, German and French). It works.
Sadly, that’s about the only creative choice that’s effective. Otherwise, this Russian production tries too hard to be some sort of avant-garde art house movie about children in wartime. This is neither Anne Frank nor Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962). It has neither the superb storytelling skills nor the artistic flair. Not a scintilla of it. The DOP pulls a couple tricks on dirty mirrors, perhaps attempting to emulate Tarkovsky, but it just looks silly and banal. Instead, Anna’s War looks like a poorly executed British television drama, minus the dialogue.
In addition to the cumbersome aesthetics, the make-up is also problematic. A little coal rubbed on you face does not indicate severe malnutrition. Anna survives on mostly on dirty liquids (including her own urine) and detritus, yet somehow she’s the picture of health. The inhumane conditions in which she lives are very awkward, and the settings just don’t look very credible. Plus, Kozlova’s performance is a little stilted, and it seems she’s consistently acting on cue.
Overall, a great premise and yet a missed opportunity. Perhaps the whole thing would have functioned better as a short film instead.
Anna’s War is showing at the 22nd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. DMovies is following the event live.