Ammaniti Builds a Visually Complex Scenescape
AMC+ recently debuted the dystopian drama Anna (2021), created and directed by Italian filmmaker and author Niccolò Ammaniti. Inspired by Ammaniti’s best-selling novel of the same name, this single creative visionary process paid off. Ammaniti shows a true talent for visualization in his second directorial accomplishment.
In this dark, atmospheric six-part series, a relatively young and inexperienced cast draws together to impart surprisingly powerful performances. Giulia Dragotto stars as Anna, while Alessandro Pecorella plays Astor, her younger brother, now her responsibility. Clara Tramontano (Ore cutanee) stars as Angelica and Giovanni Mavilla as Pietro, a young companion on the brink of adulthood and death.
Hailed as the “bravest series ever produced in Italy” by Vanity Fair, the short series tells the story of a 13-year-old Sicilian girl who must contend with a global pandemic of a viral contagion that has infected humanity but kills only adults.
As there are no more adults in Anna’s world, the remaining children face their own mortality. Some live, some don’t. Desperation and confusion are palpable while empathy and compassion are rare commodities on her island home.
Anna chooses isolation in her familial home, surrounded by protective, fenced woods. She lives with her younger brother rather than the city gangs and relies on a notebook to survive. Her mother’s final gift was written in the last days before the adults died. The journal provides helpful instructions, day-to-day necessities, and instructions, and philosophizes on life. But Anna quickly discovers that past rules no longer apply and her survival in this post-apocalyptic world requires new moralities.
Knowing as she ages, she will eventually die too, Anna endeavors to protect and prepare her 8-years old, little brother Astor (Pecorella) for the day he will be alone. While away from home searching for food, Astor is drawn from the mysterious woods and kidnapped. Recognizing her responsibility, Anna is forced into the larger world to find and bring him home to the woods. She ventures through burnt fields, dilapidated shopping centers, and abandoned cities. Here she encounters survivors gathered in wild unrecognizable communities, fighting to regain the large desolated spaces.
With references to Lord of the Flies inevitable, Anna similarly depicts the evolution of an unstructured society. But the story is more – of a girl and a boy. It is a story of life, good and bad, hope and disappointment, and the potential for survival found in little discoveries.
Surprisingly, the story is lacking in several key features. The backstory surrounding the epidemic is vague, almost an afterthought, and there is minimal discussion or movement toward a cure. Also, the depth of the characters is minimal. Whether the lack of complexity is intentional, highlighting that the children are only living in the here and now, or is a result of the cast’s youth and inexperience is unclear.
Even as a short mini-series, Ammaniti builds a visually complex scenescape using color, natural light, and shadow. The soundscape is subtle, at times eerie, pushing and pulling the story. Pre-apocalyptic characters involved in the mundane impose themselves onto the storyline through the careful use of flashbacks. And the post-apocalyptic scenography offers a glimpse of the future – incorporating the desolate nature of the empty and discarded island.
Filmed on location at the Villa Valguarnera, Bagheria, Sicily, Italy, and produced by Sky Italia, Wildside, and ARTE, Anna is currently streaming on AMC+ and available on VOD.
Anna is an insidiously fascinating series. Once started, it is impossible to stop watching, and while subtitled, the dialog is sparse and simple, the series relying instead on the landscape, location, and action to tell the story.
Anna (2021) Official AMC+ Trailer