There’s a lot of psychoanalysis in “Ana, Mon Amour,” the kind that ensures audiences understand the roots of certain behavior even though it’s fairly obvious without the shrink spelling it all out. Călin Peter Netzer’s follow-up to his Golden Bear winner “Child’s Pose” lacks that film’s directness and drive, and not only because this time he’s chosen to shuffle the sequence of events.
Chronicling the rocky relationship between a woman prone to sudden panic attacks and the man determined to stick by her, the film has a strong start but as it progresses, both characters make unconvincing personality about-faces even before they’ve lost the attractions they might once have had. Expectedly strong lensing and top-notch performances can’t prevent “Ana” from feeling like a long slog, which doesn’t help its international distribution prospects.
If you’re looking for Romanian cinema touchstones, they’re all here: awkward dinner scenes, lots of discussions about meds, characters skilled at withering humiliation, and, of course, a hospital visit. Andrei Butică’s fluid handheld camera once again reflects the emotions and mood of the people on screen, and the dialogue feels ultra-natural. Missing, however, is a sense of plausible development, made worse by the constant shifts in time.
When first seen, grad students Ana (Diana Cavallioti) and Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) are discussing Nietzsche, when in fact, they’re flirtatiously assessing each other, the camera imitating the way their eyes roam the room with a mix of timidity and boldness. Suddenly Ana feels sick and dizzy, frantically saying she forgot her pills. Toma has her lie down, soothing her panic with his calmness and comforting hands.
Soon thereafter Ana brings Toma home to meet her Moldavian bumpkin mother (Tania Popa) and stepfather Igor (Igor Caras Romanov), the latter an unpleasant philistine who was still sleeping next to Ana and bathing her even when she was 14. Psychological clue No. 1: Ana’s stepfather is a perv, and in the Freudian world these people inhabit, his inappropriate behavior (Ana denies he ever molested her) is one of the reasons why she now gets panic attacks.
Toma is patience personified, distancing himself from friends in order to devote his energy to Ana, and even paying her bills. When he brings her to his parents’ superficially sophisticated house, the veneer of civility is dropped very quickly when Toma’s father (Vasile Muraru) violently berates him for dating and financially supporting someone who “isn’t right in the head.” Psychological clue No. 2: Toma has control issues because he takes after his father.
Religion is added to the mix when Toma goes to confession after years away from the church, and in one of the film’s best scenes, talks about his concerns to a priest (Vlad Ivanov, guaranteed to improve every film he’s in). Their exchange — or rather, the delightful free flow of relatively wise advice coming from the priest’s mouth — is a highlight, but really doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Yes, Toma’s parents are religious, but in truth, there’s no need for this sequence to be here apart from providing a delicious moment to showcase Ivanov’s scene-stealing abilities.
With Toma’s help, Ana is weaned off psychotropic medication, though everyone’s concerned she’s a prime candidate for postnatal depression when she becomes pregnant. The baby is delivered and life seems to be stabilizing, but as Ana finds her feet and becomes a less needy woman, Toma turns into a control freak very similar to his own father.
Ana’s sessions with her shrink aren’t seen, while Toma’s visits to his analyst (Adrian Titieni) are marbled throughout the film, together with lots of discussions about dreams. In truth, it’s not always easy to tell what Netzer wants audiences to take away from these scenes: Are we meant to buy the psychiatrist’s interpretations, or are we supposed to question them? Wasn’t the priest’s advice ultimately more useful?
Perhaps it would have been more clear if the film maintained a proper chronology. Instead, coherence is lost when the main way to guess where a scene is in time is by pondering Toma’s receding hair. Equally problematic is the suddenness with which Ana is cured of her panic attacks, and the way Toma leaps from supportive presence to jealous husband. The only reason one can guess why he fell in love with her is because he subliminally needed someone to manage, but that doesn’t make for a compelling union for audiences.
Netzer includes a lot of nudity, which perhaps adds to the naturalism while also feeling a little gratuitous (what’s the point, exactly?). Speaking of naturalism, both leads deliver strong performances, though Cavallioti will likely take the lion’s share of attention for the seamless way she moves from “normal” behavior to full panic-attack mode. Netzer’s collaboration with ace cinematographer Andrei Butică again pays off with carefully calibrated visuals seemingly attuned to every heart flutter and brain impulse.