Film Comment Reports: Four Nights with Anna

Jerzy Skolimowski read a sentence in a newspaper about a man who climbed into the bedroom of a woman he loved—just to watch her sleep. This one-liner was the inspiration for his first film in seventeen years, Four Nights with Anna. Skolimowski is a director who’s able to render the bleak beautifully, with richness and complexity—while simultaneously preserving its essence. His film achieves this through stunning cinematography that captures, for example, a dilapidated Polish village in its somber blue and grey light. Emotionally, he manages to provide the viewer with the protagonist’s deep sense of loneliness, achieved through the subtle characterization and stellar performance by Artur Steranko.

We first meet Leon Okrasa, clumsily sneaking around the small village he inhabits. He is, at best, a sketchy fellow. His obsession with his neighbor Anna, and his job in a crematorium, is a cause for concern; but soon we see the gentleness within the stalker-like behavior. Leon begins his visits to Anna’s room and lovingly watches over her as she sleeps, adoringly mending her clothes, and even painting her toenails. His mysterious past is revealed to us through his haunting flashback images. These jarring temporal shifts break from the stark realism of his desolate existence and provide surreal dream-like moments that allow us to gradually come to understand the reasoning behind this man’s bizarre actions. We are given the rare opportunity to intimately know a kind of person no one ever gets to know. We come to realize why such a person remains in solitude and feel the tragedy of such a fate.

Skolimowski’s return to filmmaking has granted us a truly artful and humanistic film. It provides viewers with an experience that enriches an understanding of the world that would not be possible in “normal” reality. With little dialogue, he’s able to visually depict Leon’s emotions and the overall melancholia of his circumstance. The richness of tone, felt in the variant shades of grey in the sky, buildings, Leon’s clothes, the hopeful contrasts provided by the occasional red apple or red toenails, and the frequent disorienting darkness we are subjected to, elegantly parallel his tragically obscure existence. Trapped inside, Leon is constantly depicted looking out longingly, hoping to connect. But his window looks onto a brick wall. Ultimately, he faces it knowing that it signifies his inescapable condition.

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