Some movies are simply bad, while a few jump full-body, heart and soul, into awful. “Anna” falls in the latter category. A gobsmackingly misguided drama about a fragile Neapolitan woman constantly told she’s worthless (mostly by the insufferable lyrics to Epsilon Indi’s music), the pic has one salvageable quality in the intense performance of Valeria Golino, who picked up Venice’s best actress prize. Unattractively shot, structurally unsound and featuring a script that careens all over the place, Giuseppe M. Gaudino’s return to fiction after several documentaries will quickly sink without a trace.
Most of the pic is in black-and-white because, the press notes say, Anna (Golino) sees her world in black-and-white — except when she’s more overwhelmed than usual, or in flashbacks to her childhood. But Anna doesn’t view the world in a sort of ying-yang of good and bad: She doesn’t see the world at all. She’s blind to the fact that her husband, Gigi (Massimiliano Gallo, perpetually scowling), is a loan shark, unaware that her daughter, Santina (Elisabetta Mirra), has a b.f., and clueless that the people gathering outside her apartment building are victims of Gigi’s racketeering. Or are the latter merely figments of her imagination?
In any event, that’s a brief idea of Anna’s flawed vision. She’s a mother of three, thrilled to get a contract by a TV studio to be the cue-card girl after the bosses fire her predecessor, Ciro (Salvatore Cantalupo). Once she’s on set, actor-heartthrob Michele (Adriano Giannini) makes his attentions very clear: If it makes little sense that a TV star is chasing after this nervous wreck of a subordinate, the real reason, revealed at the end, is even less convincing.
Characters are given big build-ups and then dropped altogether, like Anna’s ne’er-do-well brother, Salvatore (Massimo de Matteo), and her highly critical mother, Nunziata (Virginia da Brescia). More problematic is the character of Gigi, a one-note thug whose abusive behavior towards both Anna and their kids makes one wonder how or why she ever married the s.o.b. The only relationships that have any semblance of reality are between Anna and her teenage kids Santina, Cinzia (Daria d’Isanto), and Arturo (Edoardo Cro). Making Arturo deaf is an interesting twist that helps bond the group, yet any psychological strength Anna derives from her children is tossed aside the moment she exits the apartment.
On one side of her building is the sea, glimpsed out her window as uninspired color CGI clouds roll in over heaving water, meant to call attention to Anna’s roiling emotions as her life spins out of control. Out the front door the world of Naples is seen as a noisy, rough-and-tumble place where everyone is importuned and manhandled. Loan sharks prey on the weak, the church preys on the superstitious, and only Anna is capable of doing a good turn for another human being, possibly because she’s not smart enough (we are told, again by the lyrics) to know any better.
Throwing herself into the film with gusto, Golino does more than warranted in her addled role, yet Anna is never allowed to stand on her own: With the character constantly described and picked apart by others, auds aren’t permitted an opportunity to make their own judgments apart from independently concurring with the lyrics that Anna is not terribly bright. Fortunately the versatile actress has plenty of other irons in the fire.
Visuals are all over the place, more dull grayscale than black-and-white, with Matteo Cocco’s distressingly profligate camera incapable of keeping still — though this need to cram in too much is of a piece with Gaudino’s conception of the pic as a whole. Aside from the sea hallucinations and flashbacks, color also appears in extravagant form when Anna’s portrait is turned into garishly painted Virgin Mary cards. Presumably these color asides are meant as ironic digs at the Church, yet like the rest of the movie, any societal critique is drowned in the misjudged, overstuffed muddle.