With Ana, Mon Amour, director Calin Peter Netzer is desperately trying to align himself with the great figures of doomed romantic cinema, from Rivette and Cassavettes to Bergman and Pialat. That’s certainly a bold aspiration, although given that rarified air it is perhaps unsurprising that he misses the mark. Charting the tumultuous relationship of Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) and Ana (Diana Cavallioti) from infatuated, horny college students to parenthood to middle aged divorcees, Netzer tries his hardest to inject some life into the proceedings via a fractured, kaleidoscopic timeline that freely intersperses past, present and even dream sequences into an ever-present ‘now’. But Netzer can’t get past the clichés and familiarity of amour fou. The performances are top notch, and Netzer does fine work with the camera; like his contemporaries in the Romanian New Wave, he favors long, unbroken takes and a largely hand held immediacy that never tips over into shaky cam nausea. But there’s one big, glaring issue with entire film – it has the wrong main character as its focus.
The film’s structure…doesn’t do anything to deepen our connections to or understanding of the characters.
We first meet Toma and Ana as they make small talk while their roommates fuck loudly in the next room. It’s a funny scene, and the two of them are charmingly awkward. In the midst of their conversation Ana has a sudden, severe panic attack, hyperventilating as she searches her purse for medication. Instead of fleeing, Toma seems genuinely concerned and helps her to lie down, trying his best to make her comfortable. It’s a tender moment, with furtive glances and tentative, fumbling hands that leads to a lingering embrace. We then get various scenes of the young couple meeting each other’s (largely dysfunctional) families, going to concerts, partying with friends, talking philosophy, getting pregnant, etc. Throughout all of this, Ana’s panic attacks and depression seem to be getting worse, culminating in a suicide attempt. All of this action is framed by scenes of an older, wearier (and balder) Toma having a session with his therapist, situating the narrative proper as his flashbacks. Netzer imbues these fragmented scenes with the kinds of small details that can only come from lived experience; everything feels authentic, the spaces lived in. But the film’s structure doesn’t do it many favors; once the novelty has worn off and the viewer figures out how to place the characters into the right place in the timeline (usually via hair style or whether or not a child is around), it becomes a kind of wearisome game, an affectation. This doesn’t do anything to deepen our connections to or understanding of the characters, in fact hindering it in very significant ways. As Ana gets older, she slowly begins to deal with her issues, taking medication, becoming more outgoing, and eventually getting a job. But we don’t see any of that process or character growth. Instead the film merely jumps forward in time to find Ana in a nice office and with a new haircut. For Netzer’s part, the film does finally settle on the idea that Toma is an asshole, his nice-guy routine just a cover for actually being a control freak who brandishes his power over Ana like a weapon. But even as the film (eventually) castigates Toma, his once gentle attentiveness curdling into passive aggression and finally paranoid jealously, Ana, Mon Amour is still, ultimately, his portrait, the film is charting his character, his potential for growth and redemption. In the film’s nadir, there is a scene where Toma and Ana argue. He pushes her and she collapses to the ground, hitting her head. She lies there motionless, while Toma desperately tries to wake her up. She appears to be dead, until the scene cuts away to Toma in his therapist’s office. He has been talking about a dream, which the therapist then tries to unpack. It’s hard to tell which is worse, that Netzer indulges in violence against a woman just to temporarily goose the audience, or that we are then expected to sit there and listen to someone explain why Toma’s violent fantasy isn’t really all that bad – it means something. There’s an interesting film buried in Ana, Mon Amour, one that’s told from Ana’s perspective and doesn’t indulge Toma’s toxic bullshit. Let’s stop giving emotionally abusive men so much room to feel sorry for themselves.
You can currently stream Calin Peter Netzer’s Ana, Mon Amour on Amazon.