'Anna' ('Per Amor Vostro'): Venice Review

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
A woman suffers -- and so does the audience.

Valeria Golino won Venice's Best Actress Coppa Volpi for her performance in Italian director Giuseppe M. Gaudino's first feature in five years.

Life literally looks pretty black-and-white for a Neapolitan wife and mother in Anna (Per amor vostro), from Italian director Giuseppe M. Gaudino (Round the Moons Between Earth and Sea). An extremely mannered and increasingly preposterous tale of a fortysomething woman who has to deal with an abusive, double-dealing husband and a handsome, soap-actor lover who seems to be too good to be true, this drama wants to be too many things at once and ends up being nothing but an overlong, stylistically exhausting hodgepodge. Somewhat inexplicably part of the Venice competition this year, it also won its admittedly hardworking star, Valeria Golino, the Best Actress Coppa Volpi in a very limited field. The jury, as has been known to happen when acting honors are considered, might have unintentionally confused “best acting” for “most acting.”

This is not to knock Golino, still most famous stateside for her roles in Rain Man and the Hot Shots movies, who is capable of great restraint, as seen recently in Paolo Virzi’s Human Capital, which represented Italy in the foreign-language Oscar race earlier this year. The Italo-Greek actress, who was born in Naples but whose Neapolitan accent here seems to come and go, has recently shown herself to be an excellent writer-director as well, debuting with the beautifully introspective and carefully balanced film, Miele, about assisted suicide (that film was produced by many of the same people credited here, including Golino’s partner, the actor and former heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio). What’s problematic is that the tone of Gaudino’s film is too histrionic to register as sincere and that Golino’s performance, like the material that surrounds it, is way over the top. And that’s without mentioning the film’s visual overload, with the director shooting in somber black-and-white but occasionally adding colors to certain sequences, while also drawing with various colors on freeze frames of Golino’s character several times to suggest she’s a kind of saint. It is often simply too much and often not very subtle.

Golino plays Anna, the mother of three teenagers: sisters Santina (Elisabetta Mirra) and Cinzia (Daria D’Isanto) and their deaf brother, Arturo (Edoardo Cro). Their father is Gigi (Massimiliano Gallo), a failed singer -- just like former premier Berlusconi -- whose source of revenue seems rather vague, which is never a good sign, especially in Naples. Gigi’s also not afraid to resort to violence to show Anna he disapproves of something, which seems to be far too often. Anna tries to gain a measure of independence by taking on a job at a local TV production facility, where she writes enormous cue cards for the actors who forget their lines. This is how she meets the handsome soap star Michele (Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo), who comes on to her strongly and with whom she initially finds a measure of happiness she can’t seem to find at home.

But clearly, this storybook romance isn't exactly what it seems and dark clouds keep hovering overhead, also literally. The cinematography, by Matteo Cocco, is mostly in black-and-white, though it was probably originally shot in color, since it lacks the crispness of true monochrome footage. However, there are moments, notably when Anna looks out over the Bay of Naples from her kitchen window, in which splashes of color are introduced, so that the dark clouds closing in on her sea view aren’t almost black but navy blue. One supposes that these kind of visual gimmicks want to suggest something about Anna’s mental state and her view of the world, though they lack any kind of finesse. Sure, it’s clear she lives in a grey world and even more dark clouds are gathering, but after the third shot from her window, the clouds start to feel more like arty (pardon the pun) window-dressing than anything providing the viewer with any psychological insight. Ditto for the scenes in which she imagines the floor of a bus she takes is flooded with water. Repeatedly.

Part of the problem is that there’s perhaps too much time to ponder such things, since the screenplay, written by the director with Isabella Sandri and Lina Sarti, lacks a clear narrative arc or fully rounded characters, so the actors tend to go for facile, grandstanding shortcuts. There are various subplots involving home and work that are loosely developed (and some of which later turn out to be connected), while a couple of flashbacks to Anna’s youth yield practically no insight into the woman’s she’s become today beyond the fact that she was once dressed up and forced to fly as an angel when she was a child. These insistent comparisons to saints and angles do Anna no favors, robbing her of complexity and agency, and making audiences wonder why this clearly suffering woman doesn’t just get the hell out of an unhealthy marriage and city already. Surely there are actors who don’t know their lines in other places? 

For the record, the print reviewed in Venice translated the title as For Your Love, a literal translation of the film's original moniker.

Production companies: Buena Onda, Eskimo, Figli del Bronx, Gaundri, Bea Production Company, Minerva Pictures Group, Rai Cinema, Les Films des Tournelles

Cast: Valerio Golino, Massimiliano Gallo, Adriano Giannini, Elisabetta Mirra, Edoardo Cro, Daria D’Isanto, Salvatore Cantalupo, Rosaria Di Cicco

Director: Giuseppe M. Gaudino

Screenplay: Giuseppe M. Gaudino, Isabella Sandri, Lina Sarti

Producers: Viola Prestieri, Riccardo Scamarcio, Dario Formisano, Gaetano Di Vaio, Giuseppte M. Gaydini, Isabella Sandri, Giovanni Cottone, Gianluca Curti

Co-producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint

Director of photography: Matteo Cocco

Production designers: Flaviano Barbarisi, Antonella Di Martino

Costume designer: Alessandra Torella

Editor: Giogio Franchini

Music: Epsilon Indi

Casting: Marita D’Elia

Sales: Raicom

 

No rating, 109 minutes

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