Mourning for Anna – a title that hits the nail right on the head – is no easy sell. While there will no doubt be those who marveled at its skeletal story and honest portrayal of the grieving process, I found no such classic in this offering from director Catherine Martin – a French language ode to misery.
The film opens with a minimalist animation, effectively foreshadowing the slight characterization and sketchy plotting that will befall the feature proper. Anna (Sheila Jaffe) is an accomplished violinist who we meet in the midst of concert as she harmonizes an intimidating rendition of Bach. From the audience her adoring mother beams up at the spectacle, completely unaware that it is the last time she will see her daughter alive.
Intrigued? Don’t be. Retreating to her rural family cabin in order to mourn her murdered progeny in peace, Françoise (Guylaine Tremblay) struggles to cope with her newfound emptiness. As she haunts her familial home, resolute in her apathetic bereavement, Françoise slowly begins to envision that her mother, grandmother and even Anna herself are stalking the halls around her. Inexplicably deciding to nap outdoors – in the snow-capped countryside of winter Quebec – Françoise is saved from hypothermia by an old acquaintance, exiled artist Edouard (François Papineau). Struggling towards mutual redemption, the pair strike an uneasy alliance.
At 87 minutes, Mourning for Anna is near wall-to-wall miserabalism. Like The Turin Horse before it, the film is more an endurance test to be overcome and beautiful endeavor to be admired than a piece of filmmaking to be enjoyed. While Martin’s audacity to stalk a crumbling shell of a woman from room to room – as she sobs in her bed, on a chair or outside at her icy would-be grave – is undoubtedly commendable (the film doesn’t once stray into melodrama), Tremblay’s depiction of anguish is a prosaic one, delivered through one of the year’s most infuriating mumble-core performances.
Though beautifully shot – cinematographer Michel La Veaux compositions are often striking and always reflect Tremblay’s emotional state – there is little in the way of development or advancement here to hold interests throughout, let alone invite repeated viewings. Tremblay’s protagonist really is heart-breakingly hollow, the film a testament to her ability to look permanently gaunt and grief-stricken. But what of the other, equally important and dramatically interesting stages of loss?