Life is difficult and complicated in Dekel Berenson’s intimate short Anna, about a titular single mother (Svetlana Barandich) who longs to provide a better life for herself and her teenage daughter Alina (Anastasia Vyazovskaya). In their little Ukrainian village, Anna works at a meat-processing plant, wiling away the hours and returning home to find her daughter fighting for her own freedom and independence.
It’s a sad situation and a dreary existence, so when Anna overhears a radio ad about an organized event in which wealthy foreign men want to meet local women, she interprets the opportunity as her ticket to a new and better life. But over the course of that one evening, her glimmer of hope will be snuffed out as she comes to terms with the reality of what these men really want.
That’s Berenson’s movie in a nutshell. Consisting of just a few short scenes and a handful of camera setups, this is very lean storytelling filtered through fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. The dreariness is palpable at all times, if it’s in the grim plant where Anna works or the dimly lit space where the matchmaking event occurs. Barandich’s performance gives Anna a delicate hint of hope that she conveys with an innocent, naïve smile.
Despite Anna’s apparent optimism, it’s extremely easy to predict that things will not go according to plan for our protagonist. The mood is oppressive from the start and Berenson makes no attempt to hide that we’re in miserabilist territory here. If there’s any surprise at all, it’s that the ending isn’t any louder or more dramatic than it actually is.
Berenson has certainly taken the quiet route with Anna and that works more in the movie’s favor than against it. There’s also a subtle sliver of absurdity lurking in the shadows, which adds to the movie’s effect even though it’s honestly difficult to tell if it’s there on purpose or not.
Ultimately, the exiting emotion is a gloomy one. This is a sad tale about the plight of a mother and her misplaced faith in chivalry. Berenson doesn’t delve any deeper than that and the movie feels pretty familiar in its morose messaging, but the strict style and tiny glimpse of eccentricities within leave a curious impression that makes Anna’s story worth telling.