The dramatic shocks and deep insight of director Calin Peter Netzer
’s electrifying 2013 Child’s Pose
, which won the Golden Bear three years ago, proves a hard act to follow in his new film Ana, Mon Amour,
again bowing in the Berlin competition. Exploring the psychological meanderings of its young Romanian characters while it compares modern medicine, psychoanalysis and religion as treatments, it’s a romantic drama made undramatic by an overly complicated structure. The director’s fine reputation may account for initial interest from art-house markets, but the success of his previous film is unlikely.
Who’s to blame when Toma’s girlfriend Ana, a college student, goes off the rails with incapacitating panic attacks? Tracing the causes of her mental ills back to her early family life, including a father who defected to the West, the film proposes various cures that range from prescription drugs to confession in church and — just a short step beyond that — the couch. It’s a smart film with engaging moments. But working overtime to build an involving multi-layered drama with a flurry of hand-held camera movements and dizzying flashbacks, it ultimately turns repetitive and annoying.
The games people play with each other and the trap of co-dependency are the main focus. As shrewd a psychologist as any therapist, Netzer adopts a warm approach to his characters but doesn’t let them off the hook when, on closer observation, their altruistic actions are revealed as controlling and manipulative. There’s a thrill of recognition when these mechanisms are exposed in the film, but these a-ha moments run out long before the end credits.
The opening scene plunges the viewer into the thick of the budding relationship between attractive young Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) and Ana (Diana Cavallioti), as they discuss Nietzsche and anti-Semitism (they’re both university lit students) before falling into bed in a frankly sensual scene. When she’s overwhelmed by an anxiety attack for no apparent reason, he doesn’t run the other way, but is caring and responsible about finding a doctor who can prescribe better meds.
Toma’s controlling mother (“Call me when you get there,” gets a laugh for Carmen Tanase) and violent father are vehemently against the match, which only strengthens his resolve to stay with her. A visit to her parents’ home includes a giggly scene in which Toma has to share a bed with Ana’s oafish stepdad (Igor Caras Romanov) and opens the lid on her complicated family situation. He begins to suspect that her problems are psychosomatic in nature, which the viewer has known from the start.
So the film is already one step behind the audience by the time Ana gets pregnant and a serious psychotherapist is called in (who Toma pays for to continue calling the shots). Gradually Ana casts off her fears, has a baby, gets a job, becomes more independent. But as she improves, Toma reveals his own insecurities and a jealous streak that makes life hell for them both.
It’s interesting that when Ana is ill and staring catatonically into space in the first part of the film, Cavallioti wins no sympathy points with the audience, as she does with her lover. When it’s Toma’s turn to act out his problems, Postelnicu loses all the good will he earned as a helper/facilitator and Ana turns into the appealing character.
The progress of their role-switching is marked by their changing hairstyles, a coy but effective way to sort out the timeline in the continual flashbacks. During their college days, Toma is a sexy mop-head with a rakish beard and Ana tosses her long, wild hair around. In stage two, Toma is starting to thin on top while Ana’s locks are professionally trimmed. By the end of the film some six or seven years down the line, he’s seriously balding while she’s become a liberated blonde.
Despite the film's shortcomings, Netzer demonstrates he is a director to be reckoned with in many nuanced scenes. One memorable moment that wakes up the story is Toma’s decision to go to confession and ask the priest for advice about Ana. Father Adrien (Vlad Ivanov) may reek of liquor but he talks more sense than anyone else up to then. If only his common-sense approach had prevailed from the start.