As I watched this film, all I kept thinking about was how selfish everyone in the film was. Anna was the worst culprit and the poor baby inside her stomach was a prisoner of her selfish whims. In the film, we watch as 16 year old Anna chain smokes cigarettes, hear tales of all the drugs she's done while pregnant, and appears catatonic from whatever chemicals she secretly ingested that day. It is a miracle that the child was even born let alone born healthy. In a broader sense, Anna's story is one of a changing post-war Italian society that didn't want to work for their living, was perfectly happy to beg for food, and felt the government had left them out in the cold.
When we meet Anna, she is about nine months pregnant. The baby doesn't seem to exist for her beyond being a nuisance. She tells different stories about who the father is (chances are she has no idea) and seems unaware of what having a baby means. Though filmed on the streets of Rome, Anna is a Sardinian from a small town who left home at a young age and grew up in orphanages and institutions in France. She tells dubious stories about nuns who abused children by smearing spicy mustard on them to prevent them wetting the bed, whipped infants for crying, and forced children who vomited or wet the bed to eat or drink it. As you watch the film, you'll soon discover that Anna's stories are often exaggerated and hinge on whether she's got the attention of the listener, usually Massimo. There is no doubt Anna had a rough upbringing but she has learned how to hustle to survive and uses this skill almost without thinking.
When she first enters the scene, Anna has a nasty cough and is clearly malnourished and riddled with filth and possibly disease. Despite her pregnancy, she had been living on the street for months and earning money as a prostitute to support her drug habit. At one point, she discovers she has lice and spreads it to the crew. In one particularly creepy scene, her benefactor Massimo (the 30-something David Crosby lookalike who found her on the street and took her in), orders her to strip and scrubs her body with soap. When she washes her private parts with shampoo, he watches closely and narrates. "Shampoo on your p***y," he exclaims with delight. Massimo's intentions toggle between well-meaning sympathy for a human being in need to creepy excitement over his control of a teenage girl who will pretty much do whatever he asks so she can stay in his home, eat his food, and smoke his cigarettes. In exchange, she agrees to allow him and Alberto (director) to film whatever they want of her life. Legal ramifications are briefly mentioned in the film since Anna is legally a minor and cannot consent to what they're asking of her. In addition, there are several scenes of Anna completely nude including a few where Massimo reacts joyfully to her lactating breasts.
The film has an extremely bloated runtime clocking in at just under four hours. Most of it is taken up by man on the street interviews with some of Anna's friends and acquaintances as well as other random people who spend their days debating societal ills. One guy who claims he is Anna's boyfriend describes her as a b*tch who needs a crack in the face. Very few of them have anything nice to say about Anna, claiming she's selfish, mean, and addicted. They warn Massimo that she is a freeloader who uses people. In a later scene, they discuss the reasons why they don't want to work and outrage that society condemns them for having been in and out of jails and institutions. This leads to a sub-plot of the film: universal condemnation of hospitals, institutions, and social welfare agencies. All who have had experience with such places claim that they don't help the people they are supposed to and look down on those in need. They claim that police target political activists such as themselves and falsely arrest and jail them. Some of those interviewed do seem genuinely interested in politics while others are portrayed as freeloaders and addicts angry at the world for not giving them a handout.
As the film goes on, Anna begins a relationship with Vincenzo, one of the crew members who seems enchanted by her. She moves in with him and he helps her when she goes into labor. At that point, she completely shuts the film crew out and doesn't allow them into the hospital. They are outraged at what they deem her selfishness despite their best efforts at helping her. Anna delivers the baby which is subsequently taken from her. She is abusive to hospital staff and eventually escapes from the hospital and leaves the baby with Vincenzo who is stunned that she would leave so suddenly. Nobody ever sees her again.
Anna is a microcosm of street people everywhere. Even in countries with social welfare institutions, lots of homeless people slip through the cracks. The film doesn't seem to have a message other than to document how these people live and what they deal with. It does not justify its extremely long running time as the political diatribes grow wearisome after the first hour. However, the scenes with Anna are captivating.
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