Chaotic Ana

Chaotic Ana


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Sometimes being a cinephile is like being an addict – you have one life-changing encounter with a film, then find yourself manically trying to relive the experience, either by repeatedly rewatching the film in question or pursuing any and every other film made by the same director.

One film that has had this effect on people is Julio Medem's The Red Squirrel (1993), a faux-amnesiac erotic mystery thriller that matched Hitchcock in its sexualised suspense and the Coens in its visual exuberance. It was, and remains, an absolute stonker, and created a small but significant legion of Medem obsessives.

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And just as marijuana leads to heroin, The Red Squirrel drew its bedazzled fans (prominent and outspoken amongst whom was one Stanley Kubrick) to go back to Medem's earlier feature Vacas (1992), or to await his subsequent films - Tierra (1996), Lovers Of The Arctic Circle (1998), Sex And Lucia (2001), even the documentary The Basque Ball (2003) – with the sort of eager anticipation that afflicts only the infatuated. None of these films ever quite managed to reproduce that heady rush of pleasure that came with watching The Red Squirrel for the first time, but they were all inventively quirky enough at least to fill the void with a temporary fix. Medem's latest, however, might just help his fans kick the habit once and for all.

The titular heroine of Caótica Ana (Chaotic Ana) is herself caught in a cycle of repetition that she struggles to escape, even as she journeys further and further back in time to the primal scene that kick-started all her troubles. When we first meet the free-spirited artist Ana (Manuela Vellés), she is leading a fairytale existence in an Ibizan cave with her 'Grizzly Beast' father Klaus (Matthias Habich). She is virginal, sheltered, and has no interest in the historical realities of the world beyond.

Yet when her work is spotted by arts patron Justine (Charlotte Rampling) who invites Ana to an artists' commune in Madrid, everything changes. There Ana is given lessons in sexual politics by her new friend Linda (Bebe), and has her first sexual encounter with the exiled Berber artist Saïd (Nicolas Cazalé), whose desert paintings trigger a spark of recognition in her. Shortly afterwards, she has a strange fit in a restaurant, during which she speaks fluent Arabic, even though she has never learnt the language. That same night, Saïd vanishes.

Hoping to solve the mystery and to find Saïd, Ana agrees to let the hypnotherapist Anglo (Asier Newman) guide her through her trance-like episodes, and what they uncover together is a series of Ana's past lives, stretching back two millennia and spanning the globe, and all ending in her death at the hands of vicious men. Is history once again conspiring to repeat itself, or can Ana find a way to break the endless cycle of male violence and oppression?

Any film which combines North African history, feminist emancipation, Oedipal underpinnings, transatlantic voyages, the Iraq war, Native American ritual, animated paintings, trashy Eurosex, a chronological span of 2000 years, a tribute to the director's dead sister (also called Ana), and a formalised narrative structure built around a hypnotist's countdown, is nothing if not ambitious – but unfortunately Caótica Ana is also as messy as its title implies. Despite boasting a screenplay full of the paradoxical symmetries that have come to mark Medem's best work, this is ultimately a glossy, superficial affair, leading up to a climactic sequence too laughable to impress in any way.

It is not that Caótica Ana lacks ideas – it positively brims with them – but they are all treated with a shallow desultoriness that brings little satisfaction, while their seriousness is undermined by the broad-strokes tone, better suited to a fey fairytale than to the acute allegory this evidently sets out to be. Worst of all, the eroticism that was so integral and so appealing in Medem's earlier films has here, as in Sex And Lucia, given way to a cringe-making brand of gratuitousness that will leave viewers (and not just the British ones) feeling not a little embarrassed.

Ultimately Caótica Ana is a film that counts down to nothing in more ways than one, and you might find yourself wishing that you could, like Ana herself, leave the whole experience buried in your unconscious – if, that is, you manage to keep your eyes open at all. For if Medem's films really are like addictive drugs, this is the first one to induce something like a stupor.


Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2008
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An artist who joins a commune tries to uncover her past lives to end a cycle of violence.

Director: Julio Medem

Writer: Julio Medem

Starring: Manuela Vellés, Charlotte Rampling, Bebe, Asier Newman, Nicolas Cazalé, Raúl Peña, Gerrit Graham, Matthias Habich, Lluís Homar

Year: 2007

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: Spain


London 2007
Viva 2008

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If you like this, try:

Dead Again
Sex And Lucia