Nana - SideReel Review
If you’re looking for a reason to give up pork, watching Valerie Massadian’s film Nana might give you the incentive you need. The movie opens with a sequence in which a large pig with a bad leg is shot to death by a farmer while a handful of children watch, and moments later we see the blood drained from its carcass in close-up, followed by a scene in which the farmer and his hired hands burn the hair from its body so it can be dressed. Not long after, one of those children is playing with piglets and cheerfully refers to them as "little roasts." If you’re eager to be reminded of just where your bacon is coming from, for good or ill Nana reinforces that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt.
What else Massadian is up to with Nana is somewhat less clear. The picture has no conventional narrative and there are only three characters of any significance, two of whom don’t even have names. Nana (Kelyna Lecomte) is a four-year-old girl who lives on a farm in rural France, where she has obviously gained a certain familiarity with the realities of life and death. Nana follows her grandfather (Alain Sabras) as he does their chores and explores the fields around the farm. Nana’s father is nowhere to be seen, and her mother (Marie Delmas) has moved to a small cottage nearby; some angry and foulmouthed phrases Nana spouts while doing a jigsaw puzzle suggest she heard more than a few bitter arguments between her presumably estranged folks. As Pappy looks after the pigs and cows, Mama glumly forages for firewood, does the shopping, and cares for Nana, while the little girl reads stories and entertains herself. Later, Mama seems to have vanished and Nana is left to fend for herself, though she seems to regard this as an adventure rather than a crisis.
Nana is the first feature film from Valerie Massadian, who previously worked as a production designer and art director; here, she serves as the cinematographer as well as writer and director, and there’s no arguing that she’s given the picture an elegant and memorable visual style. Nana is shot in long, uninterrupted takes that frequently observe the action from a comfortable distance, and when the camera goes in for a slow pan, it seems positively adventurous. This languid, unhurried approach serves the four-year-old protagonist well: Massadian has urged a subtle, naturalistic, and frequently charming performance from young Kelyna Lecomte, who often seems to be making up her own dialogue and reveals a playful, convincing sense of discovery about everything around her, whether she finds dandelions or dead rabbits. However, while the film spends enough time with Lecomte that her perspective on the world is not hard to surmise, the frequent anger and annoyance that bubbles beneath the surface of Marie Delmas’ turn as Mama doesn’t have enough context for us to really understand what went wrong before and what’s going wrong now. And Alain Sabras doesn’t really do anything but look after animals and tend to his crops, though his interplay with Lecomte has the fond rhythms of a grandfather doting on his granddaughter. At just under 68 minutes, Nana barely qualifies as a feature film, yet its ambling pace makes it feel somewhat longer, and while Massadian leaves no doubt that she’s a capable visual stylist and works beautifully with children, the movie offers no clue if she has any talent at all for storytelling. Nana is a quietly audacious debut that shows genuine promise, but it’s a long way from a full-blown success.