A Special Film with a Familiar Feeling
by Yesim Tabak
During the Q&A of Nana at the Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival, somebody from the audience wanted to praise the film by saying: “It has a documentary feeling. And I like documentaries…” Though the old man meant well, the director Valerie Massadian didn’t like the comment. Not at all. She rejected this: “I don’t like documentaries. Nana has nothing to do with documentary. To me, cinema is poetry.”
What might first resemble a documentary approach in Nana is that it doesn’t have a prominent narrative, while giving us details from a lifestyle (in a French rural area) with a camera that seems to not be interfering or commenting. The first detail sees a pig get slaughtered in a farm — the famous, or infamous, opening scene of the film. At least half of the audience in the movie theater is in shock, though not four-year-old Nana (Kelina Lecomte). She’s watching calmly, accompanying her grandfather (Alain Sabras), who’s in charge. Her grandfather seems to be a solid figure in her life — an educator on nature and how to survive in it. Then, we see her with her mother (Marie Delmas). They live in a stone cottage in the forest. The division of labor seems to be just like in the ‘old times’. While the male, the grandfather, represents hunting and so on, the female, the mother, represents home and the labor of gathering. They collect things like wood together. But one can not exactly talk about a balance here. The mother isn’t quite ‘motherly’. It’s as if she is the big child, who has to (unwillingly) take care of the little child. They play and ‘hang out’ together; sometimes have fun as well. But affection isn’t very visible. The scene where the mother is bathing the child looks more like a dishwashing act. When the audience reacted against the opening scene with the pig slaughter, Massadian responded: “If you don’t get disturbed when you see all those meat in delicatessens, then you can’t say ‘this is violence’. I think the scene where the mother is bathing Nana has much more of a cruel side.” So everything in the film referring to nature and life’s cycle seems to be in order; tough Nana might be lacking a proper mother. She disappears from the picture anyway after one point, and Nana continues her daily life by herself, imitating everything she has learnt from her family. And we can’t be sure how much of what we see on the screen has actually happened, and how much of it is about the way Nana perceives things.
The film is not a documentary, not a classical drama and not actually a dream. Massadian — a longtime photography artist — cuts the scenes together with gentle evocations, while avoiding an enforced symbolism, in her first film. Her background in photography and her lead actress Lecomte (who seems surprisingly and totally unaware of the camera) are her best allies. In the end, this ‘compact’ film, which runs only 68 minutes, leaves you with a feeling as if you have seen one of those cinematical portraits on rural life, yet something you haven’t seen before, something very special in its own right.
© FIPRESCI 2012