Russia - 1993

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

There's an old Chinese curse that goes, "May you live in interesting times." Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov's documentary, "Anna" is about the interesting times he and his family lived through. His daughter Anna was born near the end of the Soviet empire and attained the age of reason just as the old order was toppling into the hope and uncertainty of first perestroika and then a chaotic democracy. Though this is Anna's story, politics is always an issue.

Mikalkov, who made "Burnt by the Sun," begins by introducing his ancestors, including a famous pre-revolutionay poet. He contrasts the political climate of his parents' day, when the family changed the pronunciation of their name so as to distance themselves from the bourgeois poet, with the times in which Anna was born, when she could proudly claim him as kin. Not that this had become an open society. Mikhalkov was forced to film in secret, at great risk both to himself and to those helping him either by procuring contraband film or doing the unauthorized developing of it. Many sequences are overexposed and some are out of focus, for which Mikalkhov apologizes. Yet to realize why this angelic child is shown on badly developed film indicts censorship more eloquently than words ever could.

When Anna was six, her father asked her a series of questions which were to become an annual ritual. What do you love most, what do you hate most, what do you fear most, what do you wish and what do you expect from life. At six, her answers are universal kid stuff. She fears the witch. She loves her family. The following year her answers begin to show awareness of the greater world. Mikhalkov annotates Anna's answers with footage of current events. Anna also shows a different awareness of self. On camera, she checks her reflection in a handy mirror and instinctively smooths her hair. Each successive year shows her maturing worldview and her sometimes fearful response to it.

This is a very personal history of a momentously historical time. It doesn't claim to be comprehensive, but the insight it gives into the Russian people and the recent interesting times they've endured, makes for a unique and moving documentary.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 6/11/97

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