Mourning For Anna

Mourning For Anna


Reviewed by: David Graham

French Canadian writer/director Catherine Martin's succinctly titled mood piece is a chilly but moderately rewarding examination of loss and grief. Her approach, which skilfully avoids melodrama and keeps a respectful distance from her subject, is complemented by Guylaine Tremblay's finely nuanced central performance, communicating her character's internalised agony in painfully tangible fashion.

The film opens on Françoise, beaming with pride, before slowly closing in on her eponymous daughter during a recital of an intimidating but joyful classical piece by Bach. We then learn of Anna's murder, and follow Françoise as she struggles to deal with the pain of losing her only child. She retreats to an old family holiday home in the country, where the isolation and wintry expanse offer some solace for her. Even out in this desolate landscape, the past comes calling, through dreams and memory but also an unexpected encounter with a former paramour. As Françoise cycles through recognizable stages of grief, the thawing of the snow and rekindling of old feelings promise to pull her out of her elegiac despondency.

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Martin immediately establishes her technique of lengthy, immaculately framed shots; many could be hung in galleries, giving the film a chamber-piece feel. While the usually static camerawork threatens to ladle on the stark miserabilism a little too thick, the composition communicates how numb Françoise obviously is, adrift in her surroundings and untouched by anything around her. As she progresses through disconnection, denial, guilt, admonition and even impotent rage, her agony is etched all too believably on Tremblay's handsome features and deep, dark eyes. The skeletal sound design and sliver of gnawing score add to the encroaching intensity.

While short scenes with her ex-husband and snatches of telephone conversation fill in her past and present, the film becomes even more interesting when François Papineau's Edouard enters the scene in a significant moment of fateful intervention. Their gradual re-connection offers redemption for each of them; he's on a disillusioned hiatus from a successful art career, abandoning his modernist leanings for traditional painting. This makes you realise that Martin approaches her material like a portrait, just as Edouard finds a new appreciation for still life.

The director keeps elegant control of proceedings, refusing to intrude on her characters' hurt just for the sake of audience-baiting sentiment. This runs the risk of leaving the audience cold, but the inclusion of some nicely considered dream sequences and moments where Françoise is visited by the female spirits of her family (it's never clear whether this is imagined or not) adds another layer of complexity to proceedings, deepening your involvement in this fragile woman's recuperation.

Things almost become a little mumble-core pretentious as their relationship becomes entwined with his crisis of faith in his art; later scenes even become a little creepy as he encourages her to model for him. Martin doesn't force the idea of art and nature healing her wounds down our throats; she recognises that these things could even be dangerous for the unstable woman's psyche, culminating in some uncomfortably overwhelming scenes of despair. Martin inches towards the sort of subtle-cum-ambiguous ending that art-house directors can't seem to resist - or perhaps resort to when they're unsure how to wrap up something so delicately wrought. Mourning For Anna demands a sobering commitment and patient investment in its players, but it resonates afterwards due to the simple truth it contains.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2011
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A meditative and hypnotic meditation on grief and loss.
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Director: Catherine Martin

Writer: Catherine Martin

Starring: Guylaine Tremblay, François Papineau

Year: 2010

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Canada


EIFF 2011

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