Directed by Valerie Massadian
The debut feature from photographer Massadian collects an assortment of scenes starring a sloe-eyed 4-year-old playing at a farm and a cottage in the woods. Shown a bit with her gentle farmer grandfather and more with her determined, disheveled, and pretty mother, she is abandoned for a while for no clear reason beyond the inherent drama of a child alone and the pacifying pleasure of watching her futzing around. The candid, winter-clear takes of chatty Nana-in-nature and the semi-story’s gently inviting ellipses have elicited praise for—and wonderment at—the pint-sized feature on the festival circuit. Her movie opens with the art-house equivalent of a blockbuster’s pre-credits show-stopper: the killing of a hog, self-consciously staged with Nana and two other kids positioned alongside in long shot.
But Nana feels half-formed and has not half the power that early-action advocates have claimed on its behalf. It’s an exercise in framing (in more than one sense) that wishfully attempts to put a child’s free play and routine farm activity in the service of something greater (or “sheer veracity” as one critic thesaurally put it). Nana is industrious and talkative and does say and do some poetic things, but I kept thinking I might feel that about any 4-year-old plunked down in the disarray of a picturesquely disused French cottage and either left to babble freely or fed lines that grope at Mom’s backstory.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating is the palpable sense of the filmmakers putting faith in a cinematic school of suggestion and observation yet giving their material just enough thrust to make us want more. That being said, Nana has its fair share of organically grown moments of wonder—the best being what at one point sounded like the close-miked kid’s stomach growling, and the insatiable curiosity of piglets en masse.
Opens January 25