A daring journey of self-exploration becomes a dizzying exploration of the history of womankind for the young protag of “Chaotic Ana,” a memorably intense, abstract and unfocused pic from Spain’s most distinctive auteur, Julio Medem. Rangier and more dazzling — visually and conceptually — than anything Medem has tried before, the movie unfortunately lets the chaos of the title permeate its second half. Confirmed Medemistas will find much to enjoy; newcomers will be challenged to distraction but reassured they’re in the hands of a helmer of integrity and visual skill. Offshore sales could be brisk.
Ana (newcomer Manuela Velles, latest in a line of wide-eyed, innocent Medem heroines) is an 18-year-old wannabe painter who has been raised in a cave in Ibiza by her feral-looking father, Klaus (Matthias Habich), whom she affectionately calls “the animal.” (Ana’s paintings are adapted versions of work by the helmer’s sister, Ana, who died in 2000.) During a street market where she’s trying to sell her work, Ana is approached by arts patron Justine (Charlotte Rampling), who offers her the chance to go to Madrid and work in a commune she has set up for young artists.
At first, Ana is happy in Madrid, making friends with militant feminist video artist Linda (Bebe Rebolledo), whose footage of what’s happening accounts for a high percentage of what is shown onscreen. However, when Ana sees painter Said (Nicolas Cazale) at work, she has the first of several brief mental breakdowns during which she has terrifying visions.
At a restaurant, Ana collapses following a vision of a child being snatched from its mother. An American hypnotist, Anglo (Asier Newman) expresses interest in studying Ana: He believes she’s having “memories which are not of her own life.” Ana submits to Anglo’s hypnosis. It turns out she can psychologically regress more than 1,000 years: she’s now experiencing the lives of women who have met tragic ends throughout history.
Some auds may not make the leap. But it’s the start of a journey which takes Ana, via a native American reservation in the Arizona desert, to a showdown in a New York hotel room with a U.S. politician (Gerrit Graham) that’s brutal, memorably scatological and as in-your-face as the best of them.
Pic shuns traditional narrative logic in favor of a system of parallels, echoes and sometimes symbols (like the doors of caves opening). However, through the final five of the pic’s 11 sections, cause-and-effect practically disappear: at one point, Ana is inexplicably seen aboard a boat bound for Gotham with Linda’s father, Ismael (Lluis Homar).
Such narrative leaps are indeed chaotic, but also feel like dramatic shorthand. And just when the characters seem mere mouthpieces for Medem’s obsessions, he throws in a genuinely moving scene like the final reunion between Ana and her dying father.
Perfs are fine, with the radiant, deceptively fragile Velles doing terrific work in a demanding, complex role. Only Newman, as the implausibly fresh-faced hypnotist, obliged to deliver every line in a second language, feels awkward. With her natural vivacity, bubbly Rebolledo provides most of the few laughs, while Habish oozes presence as Ana’s father.
Dialogue, as is generally the case with Medem, is often mere speechifying, though the young characters are able to articulate the ineffable without hesitation. Jocelyn Pook’s lush, world music-inspired score stirringly thickens the layers of atmosphere. Color-drenched, high-precision visuals are often stunning, whether a close-up of a bird in flight, Canary Island, Navajo desert landscapes or Ana’s naif artwork brought to animated life.