"Four Nights with Anna": A Man Obsessed By Nadezhda Marinchevska

in 21st Athens Panorama of European Cinema

by Nadezhda Marinchevska

After 17 years of silence, famed Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski returns with his new film Four Nights with Anna (Cztery noce z Anna). It is a dark and cheerless story about the distressing love of a man for a neighbor woman, but also a story about voyeurism and obsession. Leon (Artur Steranko) violates all moral and human standards of behavior. He secretly peeps at Anna (Kinga Preis) through binoculars, mixes a strong sedative with the sugar for her tea to be able to break into her room when she is asleep. In this context Leon somehow manages to take care of her — he polishes her toenails; he washes her floor; cleans up for her after a birthday party; repairs her cuckoo clock. His twisted love for the sleeping woman is tender and sincere, but this kind of imposed and unwanted intimacy is extremely disturbing.

Four Nights with Anna, however, is not only a film about nights and desire. Skolimovski tells the story in a strange, deadpan manner which suggests hidden meanings and substantial social connotations. Leon’s personal trauma represents the traumas of society, where moral ambiguity is a fact of life. Everyone in the film is desperately lonely and unhappy. Simple joy is an unknown feeling, and depression is the norm. The surroundings intensify the gloomy mood: The small village is dirty and muddy, its claustrophobic houses almost impossible to live in. The gray walls of the hospital where the protagonist works are dank and peeling. The cold and the rain are reflected in the characters’ souls. This suffocating, threatening atmosphere ultimately gives birth to violence. Leon witnesses Anna’s rape, and this is the vague reason for his sick attraction to her. Later, he is accused and jailed for this crime — which he did not commit. In turn he is raped in prison, and the severe brutality goes on. It is no surprise that in such a world, even death is not a tragic event. When Leon’s grandmother dies, this just gives him an opportunity to breach his prison wall, making another window from which to look to the nurses’ dormitory the better to watch Anna.

Skolimowski’s work may be compared with other Eastern European noirs. The Polish master manages to make a kind of collective psychoanalysis of society: The lives of his characters are banal and tedious, but at the same time intensely irrational. Four Nights with Anna opens like a horror film: Leon buys an axe in a sort of eerie panic, hiding it from the people on the street. The next scene shows him in a grimy cellar where he pulls a human hand from a black plastic bag and throws it into a furnace. The ghastly episode turns out not to be a nightmare about an axe-murderer, but the story of a stunned worker in a hospital crematorium. This small tribute to Buñuel and surrealism is later affirmed with an obscure image of a dead cow floating down a river. The surrealism of life is felt throughout the whole picture. The abnormal behavior of the protagonist is redefined as a moral disease of his society.

The director uses a fragmented editorial structure, mixing past and present. He masterfully degrades the intimate scenes with the sleeping Anna, mixing the sad story with hum our. While in the beginning, Leon is content just to smell her clothing or do some small — favor for her sewing a loose button back into place, perhaps — the next nights he carries himself like a family member or lover. After her birthday party, he sneaks through the window dressed in his best suit, carrying flowers and a ring to put on her hand. This would be really touching, in a way, if the other scenes were not so disturbing. Violating her privacy, Leon spies on Anna when she brushes her teeth, dresses herself or just tries to reach for her shoe with her bare foot. The camera perspectives at times are quite unconventional — even placing us beneath the bed with the hiding protagonist, glimpsing see just a portion of a woman’s legs. Colors are dark, rendering the images almost monochromatic, the better to emphasize the obscure, entangled and desperate life of an obsessed man living in a decayed society. The dialogue is much more than economic and Michal Lorenc’s score contributes essentially to the film’s sense of plunging down into the subconscious and the tortured psyche.