The idea of mapping out the span of a life or a coming of age according to the rhythms of the seasons is nothing new in cinema, but rather than allow it to impose a rigid structure on her debut feature ANISHOARA, Ana Felicia Scutelnicu finds new ways of looking at the world that each season represents. The film opens with a tale related directly to the camera by a storyteller: the legend of a skylark who wants to embrace the sun. With that, the film immediately expresses Scutelnicu’s intention to extend the range of cinematic possibilities available, in order to explore a 15 year old girl’s growing awareness of the mysteries and the realities of the world.
The subsequent chapter, which opens on the last summer of youth for a 15 year old girl in a remote Moldovan village far from the modern world, is almost entirely free of dialogue. The first image is of children’s shadows on a playground, like the limited view of the world available to the inhabitants of Plato’s cave. It’s a world of pure experience, untouched by reason or self-conscious awareness. Anishoara plays, sleeps, rides a tractor out to work in the fields, eats a watermelon, sings folk songs and catches the eye of a handsome young man; the film needs no words other than occasional exchanges. Anishoara crossing the fields on her bike on her way home reminds one of Kiarostami’s WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE? and there’s an attempt in the film to place a similar emphasis on naturalistic images and impressions, spinning them into stories and folk songs, all to try and capture a purity of spirit that is in tune with the patterns and rhythms of life itself.
The beauty of the imagery remains in the Autumn chapter, but it is no longer quite as idyllic; reality is creeping in, slowly and almost imperceptibly. Rather than ride freely in a tractor, Anishoara is learning to drive one. It’s a simple image, a throwaway moment, but it’s in tune with the changing pace and tone of the film. There’s a German visitor in the village: an outsider, an old man, an ornithologist. He has come seeking something more than the birds, so the skylark needs to be wary of singing too brightly. A more generous interpretation would be that the old man is seeking to recapture the spirit of lost youth, but he still represents a danger for Anishoara, and she seems to act on an instinct warning her of corruption on a spiritual level as much as a physical violation. The style of the film continues to present impressions in those terms, without the need for words.
A search for inner peace proves impossible when Spring comes around…
Winter and Spring continue to mix impressions of the beauty of nature with a more uncomfortable dawning of reality. Anishoara appears to be increasingly out of place, far away from those earlier carefree days of summer. The young boy she met in Summer, and who danced with her in Autumn, takes her to see the sea on his motorbike. But it’s all too much for Anishoara to take in, and they retreat to an inn where Anishoara attempts to block out her immediate surroundings and try to find another connection to the sound of the sea itself. Sounds are just as important in Scutelnicu’s film: another way of opening up the senses to new ways of experiencing the world. A search for inner peace, however, proves impossible when Spring comes around and fails to live up to the promise of Summer. The young girl realises that the world has been shaped, or shapes itself, around the older generation; and she needs to find her own path out of it.
The glows of Summer in the early part of the film, the struggle to maintain a spiritual purity, the freeing from conventional cinematic structures and the mistrust of narrative bring to mind another director: Terrence Malick. At this stag, though, Ana Felicia Scutelnicu’s ANISHOARA – her graduation project from her studies at Berlin Film School – is closer to Malick’s earlier work, showing little of the cynicism of the world that has infected his more recent productive phase. For Malick, the studious compositions, forced improvisation and fragmentary impressionistic monologues are more like the old German’s attempts to recapture or reflect on a lost innocence, but for Scutelnicu and ANISHOARA there is a sense that idyllic summer of youth is not just a memory, but something that lives within which can still be preserved.