Directed by Alberto Grifi & Massimo Sarchielli
Saturday, June 9 at Light Industry
Would you help someone if it were illegal? This is one of the multiple central questions of Anna, a discursive, exploding, newly digitally restored Italian film showing in New York this weekend following its restoration's international premiere at this year's edition of Rotterdam. The title character is a 16-year-old girl with a history of drug use, very pregnant and homeless on Rome's streets. The documentary begins with her and the filmmaker Massimo Sarchielli, who gave her shelter, reenacting their meetings. This is how it might have been a few months before, the older man smiling and tipping his cap at her; this is how it likely was, and now is, as he combs the lice out of her hair in the shower.
They're getting to know each other better, but is that all? How much power does she hold? It's not for them to answer—these scenes between two people enjoying each other's company are always subject to social judgment. Sarchielli discusses with friends and colleagues in cafés the possibility of his going to prison for abducting a minor. In Rome you can be imprisoned easily for charges ranging from drugs to pederasty, a chorus of frustrated young people declare—there's a cop on the street for every 10 people, which makes it feel like Fascist Spain. Even Anna could go to jail after delivery if the wrong person decides that she's tried to kidnap her own child. The legion of forced and self-declared outcasts, whose members include an American and an Afro-Cuban alongside native sons, are tired of living in a police state, and longing for freedom. But they don't really know what freedom looks or tastes like. Everywhere they turn, any place they could go to (jail, school, the hospital) is another dictating institution.
What is freedom? If it means choosing your own destiny then Anna, who lives on the margins, might be closer to it than any of them are. She's the one among them who holds the greatest power of choice: The choice to appear in the movie, to be naked before its camera (an early video recorder, onscreen lines intact, the footage translucently transferred to 16mm), to participate in the society it depicts or drop out; and she's the one who changes the purpose of everyone around her from reporting the past to recording the present. As she gets involved with Vincenzo, the movie's sweet and shaggy, idealistic electrician, the film stops being about what happened and becomes about what is happening. She's preparing for childbirth within a present of people who don't know their future, try to predict or decide it, and stumble into it. They party together in Sarchielli's closed apartment, until he tells them sheepishly, "The man downstairs asked if we can walk more quietly because there's a revolution." The youth keep dreaming afterwards, but in a more subdued and sadder way. People in close-up share their visions of a better world, knowing that the problems of the real one make it hard, if not impossible, to reach.