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Cannes Film Festival, 2008: "4 Nights with Anna" (Skolimowski, Poland)

Daniel Kasman
With 4 Nights with Anna the first question that comes to mind is: "Jerzy Skolimowski's first movie in almost twenty years is this?" But that question is immediately followed by the more pertinent follow-up: "Wait, what is this, exactly?"
It really is hard to say. A film of three parts, all at once, perhaps. Part one: the quirky-cute premise—common to middlebrow foreign imports films—of an eccentric expressing love from afar in a strange but endearing manner. Here, Leon (Artur Steranko) builds a long term plan of slipping crushed sleeping pills into the sugar his neighbor, Anna (Kinga Preis), uses before she goes to bed, so that he can slip in unnoticed, fix things, smell her clothing, and generally putter around with forlorn affixation.
Part two: pratfall comedy. Leon slips and slides in this movie almost as much as he moves at a kind of scamper-plod gait around his desolate Polish village. Skolimowski's zany humor, which I had forgotten about, includes Leon glancing out his window the very moment a random man gets plowed into by a random car, and, later, Leon tripping and tumbling into Anna's apartment on the night of her birthday adorned in a suit and carrying flowers.
But part three is the kicker: the vague reason Leon is attached to Anna is that he witnessed her rape several years earlier and was too stunned or too dumb to avoid being himself accused and jailed for the crime, and then raped in prison. So the eccentric romance-comedy alluded to in the film's first two components glide along in tandem with an extremely dark and purposefully unresolved motivation and tone, a strangeness which undercuts the pat regularity of Leon's conventionally unusual courtship and underlines Skolimowski's flings into surrealism.
These occasional warped wide-angles, Leon's slips in the mud, a hand reaching into the frame to habitually, pesteringly, tap his cigarette at the ashtray—the police hassling Leon—are visions of a film undulating very slowly and very subtly under our viewing. Is Leon mad? More to the point, is the film?
Skolimowski goes deadpan not in content but in form: at points the movie is nearly indistinguishable from uninspired Eastern European gloomy/funny brethren, until one finds the bizarre underbelly creeping upward. Ellipses at the film's beginning—suggesting Leon's problem is not l'amour fou but rather that of an axe murderer—a brief pan up to a cathedral of leafless trees covering a cemetery, a change in clouds suddenly bathing Leon's walk through town in eerie radiance, Leon's many slumps into twilight and darkness, and innumerable other small inclusions in this usual-unusual shell covering 4 Nights with Anna speak towards that zanniness that is at the heart of Skolimowski's best work in the 1960s and 70s. Here, it is far more ambiguous, laden down by what seems a surprisingly regular film. But it is oddly pleasurable—a near total unfathomability beyond its surface, Skolimowski's return hints at really being far, far from what it seems.
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