You’ve heard the stories, or have experienced them for yourself, so it’s no secret that modern dating is terrible. Between the falsifications and shallow honesty in profiles, it’s a miracle there are some people who have come out of this process unscathed. While Dekel Berenson’s new short film Anna isn’t about online dating, to those with a keen eye the, parallels between the two are shockingly uncomfortable.
Anna follows Anna (Svetlana Alekseevna Barandich), a Ukrainian single mother who is displeased at where her life is at. After hearing a radio ad, she’s inspired to change her situation and she enrolls in a dating group. The group’s aim is to pair American men with foreign women. The night of the gathering, things do not turn out like it was advertised.
The setting for Anna is in a foreign, frosty land, establishing a disconnect between Anna’s world and that of the viewer. It doesn’t take long before the film’s plot to get moving, and almost immediately the parallels between this supposed elite dating group and the idea of the mail-order bride creep into focus. The latter is pop culture mockery of decades past, and angles the tone of a film in a particular way. However, the film takes a dramatic left, and subtle comparisons to online dating seep in, and the ideas of mail-order and online dating begin to heinously meld.
What Berenson does so elegantly from the very beginning of Anna is that he showcases the mundane world that Anna lives in, yet displays how difficult it can be in society to exist as you are. Early on in the film, a woman is harassed by males off camera, but Anna is able to walk by unscathed. It’s a subtle, seemingly insignificant moment, but it’s more powerful than it lets on. It’s pretty common for women to be judged by their appearance, and if one doesn’t fit into this idea of what is an acceptable woman they are ignored.
This idea is reproached when we are at the event towards the end of Anna. Anna has had the opportunity to meet and chat with a man, with a translator in tow. When the suitor asks what Anna’s hobbies are, Anna is all too keen to share her passions. They are varied and exciting, creating a vivid life for Anna that we never would have imagined. Anna may be looking for a companion, but she certainly isn’t looking for excitement as her life is already full of zest. The idea is scoffed at by the man, and his only concern about her now seems to be related to her physical being. Perpetuating, once again, that a woman’s worth is in her body and not in her head.
On the surface Anna is about a mid-40s woman looking for an alternative to her lonely life, but underneath it’s an unabashed critique of society’s new mode of dating. You may roll your eyes at the comparison, but you can’t deny they are unsettlingly similar. From the first meeting Anna’s had with the coordinator, she’s judged on her image. The coordinator almost walked right by her because she wasn’t “what she was expecting.” There was also the discussion of, for lack of a better word, terms of joining the group. A lady must be willing to portray this idealized version of eastern European women, in short, subservient. There seems to be great lengths to stick to this model, even having the translator change the wording and leaving out details to perfect the lie of an obedient partner. If this isn’t a direct correlation to swiping right or left, then I might be missing something.
That’s what’s brilliant about art. Art, in all its glorious forms, is about making a connection between creative beautiful and real world emotions/situations. It’s about an artist crafting their realty for an audience to interpret it and find connection. Sure, my views could be way off of what Berenson meant Anna to be, but in and of itself, is the point of art.
This film is shot in a particular way where you are placed in a world many may not be aware of, allowing the camera to capture this icy world Anna lives in. The deliberate use of sound fuels the atmosphere of this less than exciting world. Everything about the film transports you into another place and maybe even time, but the emotions it hit are spot on to the modern audience. We can all relate to the desire to find someone to connect with on a deeper level, and sometimes we have to take drastic measures. The questions then becomes, is it worth losing yourself for companionship?
Anna is more than just a stunning short, it’s a conversation piece.
Anna is currently making the festival circuit and was under consideration for the Palm d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
Written by Lisa M Mejia
Images provided by Blue Shadows,168 Wardour Filmworks, and ESSE Productions House