You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Anna’s War’

Idiosyncratic director Aleksey Fedorchenko's Holocaust tale of a small girl hiding in a chimney is visually striking but lacks credibility.

Aleksey Fedorchenko
Marta Kozlova. (Russian, Ukrainian, German dialogue)

1 hour 14 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7817024/reference

Every filmmaker seems to think they can make their Holocaust movie different from the rest, yet almost all fall into the usual traps of emotional manipulation and sentimentalization, tripped up by the difficulties posed by the sheer banality of evil. Sadly, the whimsically idiosyncratic director Aleksey Fedorchenko and his distinctive storytelling techniques succumb to many of the genre’s pitfalls with this tedious tale of a 6-year-old Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in a chimney. While shot in an interestingly subjective (though often murky) manner, with occasional moments of stark visual power, “Anna’s War” is more a patience tester than a poignant rollercoaster ride. Fedorchenko’s customary fantastic leaps of logic simply don’t work in this context, and the film will go down as a very minor entry in his career.

There’s a grim potency to the initial shots of naked, pallid limbs half-buried in freshly turned earth, made even more horrific with the realization that Anna (Marta Kozlova) is alive and needs to release herself from her dead mother’s arm in order to climb out of the killing field. A series of short scenes give nightmare-like flashes of what happens next: She’s in a peasant hut, ignored by its occupants, then dragged across a blasted field and over to a former school building, now Nazi regional headquarters. The script, by Natalya Meschaninova (“Arrhythmia”) and Fedorchenko fails to explain how Anna arrives in her hiding place in that building on a small ledge within a chimney flue, several feet off the ground.

A striking shot of her peering down into the fireplace, her little fingers grasping the ledge, gives her a haunting bat-like appearance; in another sequence, as she opens her mouth to let rain water quench her thirst, her tiny bones and pale taut skin make her seem more like a bird. She is a pathetic figure, already feral in her behavior as she glimpses people in the room through chinks in a mirror hanging against the cracked chimney-facing. From this perch she watches women flirting with Nazi soldiers (stereotypically cruel even to their dogs), collaborators and others using the room for reasons as unclear to Anna as they are to the viewer.

Each night she ventures out of the chimney to explore the building, though seemingly only one room at a time. There’s an art studio with écorché models and animal skeletons that would make most children shudder; instead she avidly drinks water from a jar used to clean paint brushes. She scavenges the crumbs from rat traps, sucks the glue paste from book bindings, and cleverly captures a pigeon in the rafters which she roasts over a flame. She even disembowels a taxidermied wolf and makes a cloak of its fur. Apparently the one kind of room not in this building is a bathroom, though surely the Nazi occupiers (and the students before the invasion) made use of the facilities somewhere.

That’s just one of many bothersome questions arising from little Anna’s two-year concealment. We’re meant to be impressed by her ingenuity, her drive to survive an unthinkable ordeal, yet why does she take so much time to explore the building? Why has she decided that remaining in the chimney, with the constant threat of starvation, is a safer place than risking the outside world? The answer clearly lies in Fedorchenko’s desire to milk sympathy out of this situation while using confined spaces, but it’s so patently false that each of Anna’s actions provokes incredulity rather than distress. By the time the little girl, mute throughout the film, finally breaks down and cries, there isn’t even a sense of relief. A phantasmagoric scene of a Nazi Christmas banquet, the tree decorated with glittering swastikas and the table boasting a goat skeleton as a centerpiece, may fit with the director’s penchant for the unexpected, but its oddity only underlines how out of place it is.

Visually, the film privileges a sensorial, subjective look, including p.o.v. shots as Anna stares out of the distorting fissures of her hiding place. This gloomy intensity suits the confining atmosphere in which Anna never truly sees the light of day, forming the most interesting element in an otherwise wearisome entry in the constant tide of Holocaust-themed films. Occasional snippets of dissonant music unnecessarily contribute to the overall bleakness.

Rotterdam Film Review: 'Anna's War'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Voices), Jan. 27, 2018. (Also in Gothenburg Film Festival — International competition). Running time: 74 MIN. Original title: Voina Anny.

Production: (Russia) A SAGa, Metrafilms production. (International sales: Media Luna New Films, Cologne.) Producers: Andrey Saveliev, Artem Vasilyev, Maxim Lojevsky. Co-producers: Anatoly Zakharov, Simon Vine, Mikhail Grachev. Executive producers: Olga Yuntunen, Dmitriy Vorobyev, Alexander Yashnik.

Crew: Director: Aleksey Fedorchenko. Screenplay: Natalya Meschaninova, Fedorchenko. Camera (color): Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev. Editors: Pavel Khanyutin, Herve Schneid. Music: Vladimir Komarov, Atsuo Matsumoto.

With: Marta Kozlova. (Russian, Ukrainian, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Ava DuVernay Toby Emmerich Michael Douglas

    Ava DuVernay, Toby Emmerich, Michael Douglas to Speak at Produced By Conference

    Ava DuVernay, Toby Emmerich, and Michael Douglas will speak at the Producers Guild of America’s 11th Produced By Conference. The event will be held on June 8-9 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: Tim Burton's 'Dumbo' Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute at Disney Hall Other notable [...]

  • Jean Francois Helene Etzi

    Disney's French Chief Jean-Francois Camilleri Exiting, Helene Etzi Upped

    Jean-Francois Camilleri is leaving Disney after more than 30 years and will replaced as the head of its French operation by Helene Etzi. Sources said Camilleri’s departure was his own decision. He announced his exit on Twitter, Tuesday, and paid tribute to his team and colleagues at Disney, thanking them for the “unique adventure.” More [...]

  • dumbo Tim Burton

    Film Review: Tim Burton's 'Dumbo'

    The key image in Walt Disney’s 1941 “Dumbo” is something out of a fairy-tale daydream: Dumbo, the baby elephant with long-lashed goo-goo eyes, a cuddly grin, and ears as long and floppy as wings, flapping those ears to soar around a circus big top, flying over the crowds with a freedom as touching as it [...]

  • Guys and Dolls

    'Guys and Dolls' Getting Remade at TriStar (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Guys and Dolls,” the venerable Broadway musical, is set to return to the big screen. TriStar Pictures has purchased remake rights to the original Damon Runyon short stories about gamblers and gangsters that inspired the shows, as well as the rights to the Broadway musical with its book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and [...]

  • Captain America: Civil War

    'Black Widow,' 'Little Women,' 'Charlie's Angels' Among Most Tracked Female Directed Projects, IMDb Says (EXCLUSIVE)

    Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow,” Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman 2,” and Elizabeth Banks’s “Charlie’s Angles” are among the ten most tracked projects on IMDbPro. Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”), and Susanne Bier (“After the Wedding”) rank among the most widely followed female directors on the [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    European Parliament Gives Final Approval to Controversial Article 13 Copyright Directive

    The European Parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to Article 13, a controversial part of a wider directive that shakes up the rules around copyright in the European Union. The new rules will have ramifications for online platforms, content owners and creators, and the general public. The proposed new framework, now approved, has sparked widespread [...]

  • Fox Disney Layoffs

    Fox Studio Quickly Fades Away as Disney Starts Work on Integration

    In the waning days of 21st Century Fox, there was a run on the searchlight. As Disney neared the completion of its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, employees on the Fox lot rushed into the studio’s gift shop to pick up mugs, shot glasses, sweatshirts, hats and T-shirts emblazoned with 20th Century Fox’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content