|Index||10 reviews in total|
An English language film shot in Denmark with a European cast, "All
About Anna" is a co-production from Innocent Pictures and Zentropa
Productions, best known in the United States for award-winning feature
films like Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" and "Dogville"
starring Nicole Kidman and James Caan.
A slice-of-life mainstream romantic comedy with explicit lovemaking scenes, "All About Anna" is erotica made by women, for women and about women. Despite its graphic sexual content, It's not a shadowy dark night of the soul, as earlier, similar efforts like "The Devil In The Flesh" and "The Brown Bunny" strained to portray. It's simply entertaining and gently arousing, and aimed squarely at ladies and couples. Successful or not (and this critic feels, by and large, that it's a success) "All About Anna" represents a new genre: a fusing of the Northern European ambiance and pretty photography of that 60s classic "Elvira Madigan" (which this film more than slightly resembles, despite a much more upbeat ending), with a distinct feminist sensibility and startling, you-are- there hardcore photography.
Danish director Jessica Nilsson (whose background includes both award-winning short films and cutting-edge music videos) brings a trendy indie sensibility to the film's visual style; the DIY-roots of Dogme95 and the association with Lars von Trier are combined to make "All About Anna" nothing so much as a lush tableaux of desire and abandon.
The deceptively simple story focuses on young Anna (portrayed with an abundance of grace and style by mainstream Danish TV and music star Gry Bay), a young theatrical costume designer, who's focused on her career to the point of shunning romantic entanglements. But her concentration is shattered by a brief encounter with her ex- boyfriend Johan. As she begins to question her choices in life and love, Anna's dilemma ironically stems from her very determination to be an independent, self-actualized woman. While yearning for romance, she fears the pain it may entail - but even more, She fears loneliness even more. In a world where "no pain, no gain" seems to take on new meanings all the time, Anna is forced to make a life-defining decision.
Loneliness is certainly one of the most universal subjects of European cinema, from Bergman's weighty meditations on faith to Truffaut's engaging slice-of-life comedies. Thankfully for everyone who dreads the pretentiousness that seems endemic to so much "serious" erotica, "All About Anna" cleaves to the latter camp.
The much-ballyhooed unsimulated sex scenes emerge as nothing so much as a natural part of the storyline. This simplicity of the explicit content is heightened by the fact that the crew and actors utilized here obviously had no experience in making "adult" films. Indeed, porn fans seeking gynecological close-ups and standard-issue "money shots" should look elsewhere, as this is one sex movie that refuses to indulge sex movie clichés. In many instances, the camera operator's choice to shoot much of the lovemaking as a series of full body shots seems to actually work against the conventions customary to adult - but they speak volumes in terms of exteriorizing the inner lives of central characters.
Beguiling Gry Bay (who, whether intentionally or not, is a dead ringer for the actress who played the titular character in "Elvira Madigan" nearly 40 years ago) is wholly believable both in and out of bed, by turns fetching, troubled, awkward, and sensitive (without ever being maudlin) in a performance that truly exists in a universe of its own, as if telegraphed from an alternate plane where "real movies" and "porn movies" are not mutually exclusive concepts. Eileen Daly happily lightens the mood in a winning supporting role, and French porn icon Ovidie is memorable in a lesbian liaison with Anna (although her Gothic, fetishistic look and personality would seem to suggest she'd be more at home in a Dario Argento erotic-horror opus than a quiet slice-of-life comedy like "All About Anna."
A final influence on "All About Anna" appears to be American cult director Monte Hellman, who while having worked under-the-radar in the U.S. for over four decades, has long been heralded as a genius of the "quiet film" in both France and Denmark (He even recently renamed his production company Quiet Films, in a warm nod to his Danish fans). As the director of "Two-Lane Blacktop," and executive producer of "Buffalo 66" and Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," Hellman has made a career out of crafting somber, slice-of-life dramas that focus on the individual's Search For Meaning.
Imagine Hellman being given a free hand to shoot his own explicit adult film, with a wry, literate script and more than a few knowing references to "Elvira Madigan," and you've got this precocious film, a movie that beats all the X-rated filmmakers in the world to the punch at creating an "adult movie" that's not only also a "real movie" but a truly "good movie" as well.
"All About Anna" is a love letter from Denmark, written in English, sent from the heart, a "Vinland Saga" for American audiences.
All About Anna aims to be an erotic film for and by women that
incorporates unsimulated sex scenes as a natural part of the storyline.
This normalization of the pornographic content is further emphasized by
the fact that most of the crew and actors had no experience with making
pornographic films before All About Anna. Consequently the sex scenes
are photographed and performed in a way that you would not expect in a
typical hardcore pornographic film. In fact, the sex scenes even play
with or against the conventions customary to pornographic films, and
are also used to portray the personalities of the characters.
The leading actress, Gry Bay, in particular contributes a sensitivity to the sex scenes that is unlike what you would expect in a film with pornographic content, and gives a good portrayal of the young female single who longs for her one and only great love and tries to cope with her career, room mate and boyfriend. Supporting actress, Eileen Daly, adds both comedy and tragedy to her scenes, while French porn actress Ovidie is passable as a French actress who shows Anna around Paris and has a sexual encounter with her. However, it is Ovidie who contributes one of the trumps of the DVD release. Her audio commentary is very revealing on how different All About Anna is from standard pornographic films.
The storyline is told in episodes, an approach that works very well and obviously could allow for expanding with more episodes in the life of this young female. Unfortunately, the film, and particularly the cinematography, is a bit uneven, and it is obvious from the copious extra material on the DVD release that some of the original intentions had to be scrapped in order to make the final film. E.g. the sex scenes appear to have been originally intended to be longer and somewhat more explicit than in the final edit.
Despite the shortcoming of the production, I think the film successfully integrates the sex scenes into the storyline and character development. The DVD release is impeccable with several audio commentaries on different aspects of the production, a documentary on The Love-Making of All About Anna, trailers, unedited sequences, and even a director's original edit. As an extra bonus the distributor has added a third disc promoting pornographic films which gives further evidence to the stark contrast between All About Anna and the standard, more mechanical pornographic film.
I suppose that this film would appeal to a female audience, aged between say 18 and 38, who are able to identify with Gry Bay's portrayal of Anna, a young female looking for her one and only love. For the successful integration of sex scenes in the storyline, Gry Bay's portrayal of Anna, and the excellent DVD release, I give All About Anna 8 stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oh, how much I wanted to like this movie ! For those of you familiar
with my rantings, you already know my interest in movies that fuse the
art-house approach with the grind house sensibility, just my fancy way
of saying I like flicks that try to incorporate explicit sex into a
mainstream narrative. In recent memory, movies like John Cameron
Mitchell's magnificent SHORTBUS or the French BAISE-MOI did a splendid
job thereof. Some ten years ago, much ballyhoo was made of Lars Von
Trier's Zentropa production unit generating an off-shoot called Puzzy
Power dedicated to creating "female-friendly" porn. Something of a Von
Trier trademark, his attention span rapidly wore out and three well
received efforts - CONSTANCE, PINK PRISON and the gay feature HOTMEN,
COOLBOYZ - later, the off-shoot (temporarily ?) halted its production
endeavors, with Nicolas Barbano's frugal Innocent Pictures attempting
to pick up the slack. ALL ABOUT ANNA, made with means far too modest
for its ambitions, in addition to being plagued by myriad unforeseen
circumstances such as the sudden Scandinavian backlash against sexually
explicit representation, represents its inaugural effort.
Proudly proclaiming itself "a HeartCore feature" (I couldn't make this up !), ANNA was the feature directorial debut of Jessica Nilsson, a Danish film school graduate gathering some acclaim for her short film work including the award-winning THE SAUSAGE, which probably landed her this gig if the title's anything to go by ! Rumor has it, Nilsson went against contract and delivered a largely soft-core edit of the film, which was then attempted to salvage by the producers with additional (and not just explicit) footage to make good on their publicity promise of anything that could pass for "women's erotica". Actually, it's a bit more than a rumor as Nilsson's virtually unwatchable "director's cut" on the second disc of an overreaching 3 disc DVD edition clearly testifies. So you kind of have to approach the movie as a rescue mission and, admittedly, as such (if, sadly, only as such) it's not too bad.
In an effort to appeal to a demographic of upwardly mobile professional women, screenwriters Anya Aims and Loretta Fabiana focus on the supposedly recognizable problems of a theater costume designer (seeming more like one of those typically glamorous skin flick professions that don't require a character to spend too much time actually working at them) trying to get her love life back in order. The eponymous Anna is played by apparently popular Danish singer/presenter Gry Bay, whose helpfully included biography mentions she was one of Kid Creole's Coconuts ! Well, she certainly sports a lovely pair of those strapped to her chest. Kidding aside, she's not too bad an actress, especially considering how the entire cast was left floundering under Nilsson's helpless direction. Anna thought she had met her ideal soul mate in gorgeous blond Nordic adventurer Johan (British, if South Africa born Mark Stevens, whose rippling muscles were employed to comic effect playing the bungee-jumping Casanova in the endearing Mandy Moore vehicle CHASING LIBERTY) who just up and left on his ship one day, leaving his lady love in the lurch.
Five years later, Anna has moved to a new apartment with fun-loving friend Camilla (Brit video label Redeption model Eileen Daley from RAZOR BLADE SMILE fame), the latter's presence largely a ruse to keep pushy new boyfriend Frank (Thomas Raft, struggling manfully with English dialog he so obviously doesn't master) at a safe emotional distance. In a "what are the odds" coincidence, one of the moving guys turns out to be long-lost Johan who now wants her back all of a sudden. Before the blissful fade-out however, not much of a spoiler in my mentioning it, the tiresome plot throws the star-crossed lovers several curve-balls such as Anna's losing Johan's phone number and the offer to design costumes in Paris (allowing her to call home sitting beside the Eiffel Tower !) by a terrible French actor trying to get into her pants, played by the not so Continental yet equally dreadful Morten Schelbech, biographically described as "a Shakespearean actor with a rich theatrical background", yeah right ! At least, the French episode yields a warm miniature from the always dependable Ovidie - the only real porno person in the cast, ironically delivering the most accomplished acting of the lot - as an actress with Sapphic leanings, initiating our often ridiculously headstrong heroine into a gratuitous yet pleasing woman to woman. Too bad the frequently clumsy DV camera work manages to make even the City of Lights look cheap and tawdry, shaping up too late in the proceedings by the time the big romantic finale comes around.
Meanwhile, Camilla is making a move on Johan, whom she met at the gym and decided to bring into Anna's apartment during her absence, all the while not knowing who he is ! Are you still buying this crap ? Thank God, Daly ends up providing the flick's most explicit encounter with ample attention lavished upon Stevens' admittedly awesome physique and the one cum shot, accidentally hitting Camilla in the eye ! At moments like these, ANNA actually works as porn, something it's trying (or not, I have lost track...) to be in the first place. Somewhat surprising for someone with little background in the field, Daley exhibits few qualms about performing on camera, bless her. Equally out of left field is her lively, only occasionally over-animated acting performance, effectively rendering Camilla a far more likable character than dreary, all too easily offended Anna. The actresses generally get off best here (pun intended), with Bay struggling hard to keep the audience on her side, inexplicably thwarted by writing seemingly intended to achieve the opposite. For a good laugh, just listen to the lyrics to the "bird song" (trust me, you will know it when you hear it !) by M. Maurice Hawkesworth, who penned all those silly tunes second language chart toppers Ace of Base used to infest the air waves with.
First things first: There are only few notable merits regarding this
particular "experiment" but it is certainly not completely devoid of
them: for one, the director attempted to create a counterbalance to
what is universally considered as the problem of the mainstream
pornographic motion picture, be it soft core or hardcore: the
presentation of a mechanical, emotionless, unengaging, uninspiring and
ultimately tiresome repetition of sexual acts aiming solely at the
physical arousal of its viewers and probably achieving that in the
first few minutes; rendering the rest of it as a distasteful and
The producers misleadingly labelled it as "pornography for women", perhaps acknowledging the fact that the scenes are not explicit enough to present it as the hardcore pornography they would have liked. And a large portion of it probably isn't as it seemingly provides to bridge the gap between hardcore pornography and erotica and create a film that would ultimately excite the senses in both a physical but also an emotional level as well as provide an engaging storyline that would justify the sex scenes as a meaningful entity of the whole. If that was the initial intention, as the producers of AAA claim it to be, it certainly wasn't given justice by the end result - in spite of the fact that that premise and intention was probably there in the offing. This is less evident in the actual producer's cut or even the director's cut of the film but a lot more evident from the outtakes of several of the sex scenes included on the DVD: they are long, varied, passionate, well rehearsed and acted and emotionally engaging; while the camera work is such that makes them appear both sensual and realistic. They're shot in a way as to provide a clue to the fact that most of the sex in the film is unsimulated; but with a more cryptic, more erotic vision, contradictory to the average porn sensibility.
It's not surprising that this film is described as a collaboration of a major mainstream pornographic production company and Lars Von Trier's Zentropa. But this dichotomy ultimately leans towards the side of the porn producers as they seem to win over the intentions of the director and probably some of the actors themselves who probably had a more concrete idea of what they wanted to achieve or rather what they wanted to avoid. As a consequence, although there is the actual "philosophy" of supporting the making of such a film - the existence of a "manifesto" in the like of Dogme95 that states the preferable and the avoidable - it all seems to escalate and ultimately fly in the face of that it was purported to be. Crudely put, there are facial ejaculation scenes; there is "cheap" music that is supposed to "complement" the sex - but in fact it is totally out of place. There is also a sorry excuse of a script and what is supposed to be a storyline but it is all done so poorly that can hardly conceal the fact that there isn't one. And most importantly: there is bad acting - which is quite surprising given the fact that some of the actors are allegedly unfamiliar with the territory and are earning their living from participating in more socially acceptable genres of film-making. However, judging by the actual acting in the film - give and take the sex scenes - either the levels of acting in Denmark are really low at the moment or these particular actors are hardly adequate in their chosen field. All the more so when particular emphasis is given towards presenting a story: the bad acting and lack of a meaningful plot to back things up create an even bigger problematic. Then there's the attempt to dress it all up with the addition of a supporting cast that comes straight from hardcore pornography; acting in more explicit and conventional scenes and overall giving a very uneven feel to the whole endeavour. Why add more characters and more scenes and "embroider" the film with what was supposed to be trying to avoid in the first place? Let alone make things even more complicated and disjointed when the leading characters themselves are so underdeveloped? It's therefore obvious that the initial intention was not shared by all of the people involved and consequently not sustained throughout the project - which is a shame and perhaps a wasted opportunity? The end product ultimately reflects those dichotomies: It's half-baked to such an extent that would equally disappoint both the fans of porn - because of the lack of enough explicit scenes they are accustomed to watching - but also those viewers who, deluded by the producers' promises, were prepared for watching something entirely different. It is different but not different enough to dissociate it from mainstream porn in terms of overall sensibility or production values. Finally some suggestions in case somebody else attempts something similar: give the director more artistic freedom to shoot what they like and present the film the way they like. Give them more time to work on it and have a more concrete picture as to what they aim to achieve. Lose the voice-over, especially when the script is so poor; get a decent scriptwriter to write a meaningful story, not an excuse for bad acting. Or perhaps simply give Lars Von Trier himself the camera and step aside...
Let's get one thing straight, normal people have sex for real and
capture it on video. They made a decent flick out of it. But it could
have been so much more groundbreaking. In the end, Nine Songs went
further when it comes to fully explicit content.
The problems with this film were as follows. The director tried to avoid full hardcore shots even though the producers wanted hardcore. Her version of the movie is disjointed and odd. If you are disappointed with what was recorded, blame her.
Plus, she seems to have hired her friends to work the camera and sound, because both were seriously unprofessional. Plus, at one point on the extra disc you spot a production camera they were using, something no better looking than a TRV-950. I know you may be low budget, but please get someone to pony up the cash for a GL2 or something.
Basically this film seems like it was sabotaged by the director. I've seen amateur pornography with higher production values. Maybe in the future there will be another more substantial attempt at this kind of movie.
I saw a bit of this last year and all i can say is this.
I hope they can afford a tripod next time The miserable acting is barely saved by the hard porn This is not a film IT IS porn There is no lighting.
I am one for the old films and i do not think a movie needs all the bells and whistles like CG and effects but this has nothing and i mean the porn is so unnecessary and it is meaningless like in that stage version of cabaret. This film is like the mind of a teenager with no imagination. The inexperience is so clear though with practice a couple of the cast could get good but this... Well i don't real know what it is... a cross between the ground shots from Miami vice, the talent of the child between enter Sharai and son of dork and sex like you-porn.com Though the blond girl is quite pretty she should have a career if she took the time to research the other contributers like the director and camera man for a school rec it might pass as appalling but as a film there is a long way to go sorry
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Contains Spoilers, but the plot is not that deep so it shouldn't bother
The film is hard to categorize. It starts out being a mainstream film with a lot of sex and ends up more like a hard or soft core pornographic film. The actors and actresses are not the typical blue movie film crew. They act like normal people while having sex and none of them seem to have been physically enhanced, The star, Gry Bay, is a true natural beauty - not at all like the typical "silicone bombshell" that plays in the blue movies. The film as a whole has more serious plot and character elements than pornography, but not enough to convince me that it is a serious film.
The movie begins very well. Anna is left for 5 years by the love of her life, Johan, because he has a wanderlust. She morns him for a while then decides to just "have fun" with multiple partners and no commitments. Eventually, Frank comes along, who cares for her. Even though he isn't the great love that Johan was, Anna likes being cared for, so they move in together. Then, Johan shows up as one of their movers. A multitude of conflicting feeling come in on Anna and Gry Bay is excellent at conveying them quickly and effectively. Also at this time Anna takes on a female roomer, Carmella. Johan knows he made a big mistake but doesn't know how to remedy it, so he makes excuses to see Anna again. These are some of the best scenes in the movie. In one very charming scene, he brings her a shoe that may have gotten lost in the move. Like a fairy tale he tries to put it on her foot to see if it fits. In another wonderful scene where sex becomes comedy, Anna and Johan start to make love, while Frank is asleep in the next room. Frank wakes up and they abruptly stop, just managing to get dressed with Johan leaving just ahead of Frank stumbling sleepily into the room.
Up to about the half way mark, the film is quite successful. The characters ring true and the plot is interesting - dramatic with touches of humor. The sex scenes make sense in the context of the film and move the plot and character development forward.
But after this point, everything changes. It is as though a different director and writer took over. Suddenly the plot seems to be there only to introduce the next sex scene. Character development is forgotten and the thinest pretext is taken as a motive for everyone to get undressed. What started out as a mainstream film integrating strong sexual elements, now becomes pornography trying unsuccessfully to cross over into mainstream.
I won't bore you with the rest of the plot, if you can call it that. Basically we all know Anna and Johan will get back together, but first the plot has to be manipulated so that we can give some sex scenes to the roommate, to an different couple, to Anna with other people, and lets not forget the obligatory lesbian scene to say nothing of the big sex scene when they are finally reunited.
It is a film that is difficult to categorize. I haven't seen a lot of pornography, but what I have seen ended up being mostly boring. This is better than that. But it is worse than a film like "Lie With Me" which really does integrate strong sex, characters and plot. All About Anna lives it in that frustrating limbo of "almost films" that whet your appetite but never satisfy it. There are some positives, however. The first half is good. Watching Gry Bay either clothed or unclothed is worthwhile in itself. She is a beautiful woman and an accomplished actress. She could have taken this movie somewhere if the script had been better. She deserved a better film.
Well, strange. There are porn films with no plot. Just they show what they show - sex. There are erotic films with no real sex but much nudity. There are films with slight erotic overtones and such. This one is a weird combination of serious life drama, sad and sometimes happy events, long shots, deep talks and a bit dull silent scenes. OK, let it be an Art House film. No, it is not, as it contains what is usually not in such films - explicit sex scenes in real porn fashion with everything clear and visible. Did it work? Many say it did and the Anna film is a decent European masterwork of real genius. Others say it is a lame shame of a film, with totally unnecessary sex scenes and vapid plot. I tend to agree with the second view. Apart from several explicit scenes, the film is a real boredom, and it drags, drags, drags miserably all along. What is is about, after all? Hard to say. It is so prosaic, even and flat that leaves you with one hanging concern what was it made and what for? I have no answer, maybe, just to show a lovely lady naked and show some boring sequences. This is all, I guess
Awful, awful, awful... what a terrible excuse for a film, pathetic
idea, poorly executed, terrible cast, the main guy is a Thor like
douchebag of epic proportions! It's films like these that strike fear
into my own heart when I think about directing a film, that I too may
make something as God-awful and dreadful as this...
If you've ever seen "Sorted" by Alex Jovy, you'll have an idea of how vapid and terrible this film is...
If this is what happens with the "democratization" of filmmaking due to digital video cameras, I say bring back totalitarianism hence forth...
Just burn the master tapes, forget it ever happened...
'Tagline: Not since Dogme95 has passion felt this real.' - 'To achieve
a realism beyond even Dogme95'. The makers of this film clearly wrote
this - if not it must be someone deprived of all his senses. First of
all: to even attempt to put this movie in the same league as movies by
Von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg is so misguided I do not know whether to
laugh or cry. This is nothing more than a porn movie (a bad one at
that)trying to create some aura of intellectualism about it - and much
like Catherine Breillats Anatomy of Hell it fails miserably. There are
hardcore scenes in this film, and it is even sold as porn in Denmark.
Two of the actresses have made more than a few porn flicks... Lars Von
Triers Idiots had hardcore porn in it too, for at split second - but
that does not mean that there is any viable excuse to put it in - there
is nothing in the way of motivation or storytelling that suggests that
hardcore scenes could have a defining impact on a movie - it's put
there as shock value only, which in this day and age is just daft.
There is not a single capable actor in this film, Gry Bay is best known in Denmark for being willing to do most anything in front of a camera (this film more than proves that). The camera movement is as uninspired as the script, there seems to be no greater design to the angles chosen, and the editing seems rather random, and does not lend this movie anything in the way of flow. Generally the post production is shoddy at best and by the looks of it the proposed 'realism' and Dogme familiarity (SIC!)is the excuse for not making a decent product... The fact that Zentropa would have their name associated with this amazes me - even if they have produced porn before it was of a much higher standard... Because... It's just porn, mum
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