Ana, Mon Amour (London Film Festival 2017)

If you fall in love with someone when they’re ill, you may fall out of love with them when they get better. I doubt this is the intended message (if any) of Romanian director Cãlin Peter Netzer's latest but it's what I think about when I think about Ana, Mon Amour. 

What a brilliant but gruelling film: a time-lapsing, age-shifting collage of Ana and Toma's journey from first love to eventual, exhausted and resentful separation. And what an embodied, what an incarnated film. 

It's not only that mind and body are so intimately related, in a manner that reminded me of Merleau-Ponty (this film is heavy on philosophical discussions; although mainly about Nietzschean ethics), but the technology of film-making is buried deep in the flesh too. It's like cinema verité courtesy of Brian Yuzna.

Just-too-private sounds emanate from mouth and belly and dominate the soundtrack; in one scene you can hear stomachs rumble; the camera lingers in close-up over clumsy everyday sex, humble post-coital genitals, cum shots, diabetic sores, and shit on the buttocks of a woman who has taken an overdose and passes out (this scene reminded me of Dalí's painting, The Lugubrious Game). 

But this isn't Salo; it's an unflinching examination of a couple dealing with mental health issues, an uncertain economy, and their dysfunctional, unhappy, suspicious parents. There are moments of relief and laughter in the deftly-handled collage but never has Philip Larkin's 'This Be the Verse' seemed so relevant:

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

After the film, my friend and I expressed our delight at being single. Pleasure may seem thin on the ground from my summary but there are several deliciously enjoyable elements. I love an excruciatingly painful dinner scene and there are at least two horrors here involving Ana's and Toma's parents; one of them culminating with Toma having to wear Ana's step-father's pyjamas and share the bed with him. 

Also, there is a good dose of psychoanalysis (parts of the film are presented as Toma's reminiscences from the couch); I find psychoanalysis by turns profound and preposterous and am fascinated by how it's treated on screen. There are moments of authenticity in the depiction of Toma's sessions but I was highly amused by the analyst allowing Toma to continue with his questions and interpretations after the session was officially over: after he'd paid! on the doorstep!

Perhaps the highlight of the film (albeit a slightly incongruous one) is the blistering, muscular, hilarious advice that Toma receives from his priest after confession. It's a scene-stealer (maybe a film-stealer) and is laced with hints of Scorsese, Ferrara, and Martin McDonagh.

Ultimately the film is a bracingly hard stare at egotism and frailty and the lack of adequate help for any of us. At one point Toma, who is increasingly anxious about Ana's growing confidence and success, interrogates her about her sessions with her analyst. I paraphrase, but it goes something like this:

Toma: Do you tell her everything about me?
Ana: Yes.
Toma: So she knows about the mole on my cock...
Ana: Don’t worry, you’re not that important.

Up next: The Dead Nation.