Maria Bonomi, Hydra, 2000.


Commentary on the film directed by Heitor Dahlia.

With the simple title Anna, one of the most interesting Brazilian films of the last season, or rather the penultimate season, is showing in theaters, as it was made in 2019 and is only now hitting the screens. It is the seventh feature film by Heitor Dhalia and, in short, deals with the backstage of a montage of the tragedy Hamlet, by Shakespeare, nowadays in São Paulo.

At the center of everything is the tense relationship between the director of the group, the veteran and consecrated Arthur (the Argentinean Boy Olmi), and Anna (Bela Leindecker), the young actress chosen to embody Ofélia, the unhappy teenager in love with the no less unhappy prince. from Denmark.

If the director's behavior with the members of the group pushes the boundaries between professional demand and the abuse of authority, in his dealings with Anna the problem is exacerbated with the addition of the erotic-loving tension. It is difficult to know where artistic admiration ends and seduction begins, and where seduction ends and pure and simple oppression begins.

As is often the case in films centered on the staging of a classic play (even more so with Shakespeare), there is a hidden dialogue, a reciprocal reverberation between the original text and the montage environment. In case of Anna, director Arthur highlights this correlation when he tells the young actress that Ophelia's position in relation to Hamlet is one of submission of the poor and simple-minded girl before a prince, a being socially and intellectually superior to her. He seems to think that this asymmetry is analogous to his own relationship with the provincial Anna.

But nothing is so simple and mechanical. Secondary characters, different situations on and off stage and occasional references to other works by Shakespeare (from Romeo and Juliet a Richard III) make everything more complex and stimulating.

On the one hand, Anna connects with what could be called meta-adaptations of theatrical works, that is, films whose focus is the process of transposing great classics to the contemporary situation. They are, in general, documentaries: Uncle Vanya in New Yorkby Louis Malle Richard IIIby Al Pacino Caesar must die, by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Moscow, by Eduardo Coutinho.

More Anna is a fiction film, and at its core is the explosive game of domination between a director and an actress. Even for its tenuously sadomasochistic developments, a reference here could be the skin of venus, by Roman Polanksi, but without the same dramatic concentration. In both cases, it is a question of a changing male-female relationship, even though Polanski's see-saw is a much more radical toy.

In this balance of background (the group, the montage) and figure (the Arthur-Anna affair), Heitor Dhalia's film oscillates between the grandeur of Shakespeare and a more conventional psychodrama, not devoid of clichés. Perhaps it is inevitable: our circumstances are even more prosaic. And, at times, even the great director Arthur seems to find that intense acting is confused with more and more hysterical screams. Theater people may identify familiar figures and behaviors in the character.

Interestingly, there are two lateral references in the film to directors who traveled between theater and cinema: David Mamet, author of the book Theater, from which Arthur extracts a quote to impress the impressionable Anna; and Ingmar Bergman, a central figure in Liv Ullmann's memoirs that a colleague presents to the young actress, calling attention to the parallel between the Bergman/Ullmann and Arthur/Anna pairs.

Heitor Dhalia films with elegance and precision, making good use of the stage and audience space, the choreography of the bodies and the play of lights. There is not a single uninteresting or slack moment in Anna.

If there are any shortcomings, they refer to a certain inequality of performances and, mainly, to the rather monolithic, one-sided characterization of director Arthur, who seems to want to impose himself always and solely through intelligence and aggressiveness. Perhaps he would be more convincing as a seducer if he showed more nuance, vulnerabilities, humor and savvy. It is surprising that only one actress in the group (Nash Laila) rebels against her authoritarian abuse.

But these are minor repairs, which do not detract from the brilliance and interest of the undertaking, certainly the director's most mature work so far.

José Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brazilian).

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG


Brazil, 2019, 106 minutes.
Directed by: Heitor Dhalia.
Screenplay: Nara Chaib Mendes and Heitor Dhalia.
Photography: Azul Serra.
Cast: Bela Leindecker, Boy Olmi, Gabriela Carneiro Cunha, Tulio Starling.

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