QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Fifteen-year-old Ann Lovett (Eileen Walsh) lives with her parents and seven siblings in the rural village of Granard, in central Ireland. One morning, she gets up early, packs two pairs of scissors into her schoolbag, and leaves the house before everyone else, however she does not show up at school. A intimidating school teacher orders her sister Patricia (of around the same age as Ann) to inform her parents about her sister’s absence. The news that Ann has missed school are soon the talk of the deeply Catholic village. The housewife mother and working-class father remain mostly unfazed about the brief disappearance of their daughter. This is more or less what happens in the first third of this 98-minute drama based on real events that took in 1984.
The remaining two thirds of the film are thoroughly visceral. Bloody even. In the literal sense. After smoking a few of cigarettes, talking to her friend Brenda (who offers Ann refuge in her house), and meandering aimlessly, the hapless teen finally decides to give birth to her baby. This is when she puts the two scissors to use. Soon she’s bleeding everywhere. The action takes place in front of a large Virgin Mary shrine right next to a parking lot, in a place called the Grotto (not a cave, but instead some sort of reclusive garden). A soulless and barren location, in fact not much different to the rest of the sleepy village. Predictably, the birth goes terribly awry. A couple of children eventually witness the tragic incident, and soon the local priest, a doctor, Ann’s parents and others are summoned. What follows is neither pretty nor heartwarming.
The main objective of the film to denounce the predicament of single pregnant women long before the 2018 referendum that legalised abortion in the Republic. It is also a commentary on quiet complacence and religious apathy. Ann’s parents have consistently denied knowledge of her pregnancy, but this is barely credible. What is indeed clear that they never dared to talk about it. In fact, Ann’s mother slaps Patricia upon receiving the news that her daughter had given birth, in what’s perhaps the film’s best sequence. The priest – the second adult to find Ann – reads out loud bible passages and throws petals on her unconscious body. He never touches her, he never attempts to revive the almost lifeless body. It doesn’t even occur to him to call an ambulance. This attitude might ring bells with those who watched the drowning scene in the Irish film The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002).
The story and the topic of Ann are indeed timely and urgent. The problem is that the movie is just too poorly executed. The outcome is a failed attempt at social realism. An unmemorable drama. A missed opportunity to bring a truly shocking and powerful story to life. Any director can get away with the occasional blooper. Ingmar Bergman included the Finnish flag in his 1982 drama Fanny and Alexander, which is set 10 years before the design was created. A fellow film critic noticed that the cigarette packs in Ann have health warnings (the film takes place long before legislation mandated such labels). I can forgive the helmer and scribe Creagh for that. But this just one of the bloopers and bungles in the film. There are several jump cuts. A bizarre subjective shot when the subject is clearly unconscious. The Lovetts claim to have eight children, yet we only ever see two of them (Ann and Patricia), even when the commotion is at its height. Where did they stick the other six children? Were they staying at their grandparents? Hiding in their bedrooms? This is not plot hole. It’s a plot crater.
The lines at the end of the film are cringeworthy in their didacticism. “Why didn’t she ask for help?”, two different people question. “Maybe she didn’t have a choice”, someone else responds. Wow. Who would’ve guessed this is a pro-choice film about women scared of asking for help? Maybe a neon sign would have helped to get the message across.
Ann has just premiered at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the event’s Official Competition