Brooklyn’s Cinderella: Anora Brings Raw Romance and Chaos | Review

Sean Baker remakes Pretty Woman in his own way: making his cinema take another step towards canonization. For the better rather than the worse.
Sean Baker's Anora


Cannes 2024


Can a fairy tale exist in a world beyond the fantasy of a Hollywood film? The answer should be obvious, yet in Sean Baker‘s latest work—also in competition at Cannes—things are less clear-cut. Anora, the character who gives the film its title, is our candidate for Cinderella of the year: a young stripper working in a Brooklyn nightclub, who falls for the advances of the heir of a wealthy Russian oligarch family, to the point of marrying him after a few days of sex, drugs, and other excesses. Chaos ensues. Learning of the marriage, his parents rush to New York determined to end the reckless union. Meanwhile, the newlyweds are taken hostage by the oligarch’s loyal henchman, an Armenian jack-of-all-trades accompanied by two thugs. The honeymoon takes a bitter turn.

Baker’s first work after his trilogy on American peripheries (Tangerine, The Florida Project, The Red Rocket) is an indie, raw version of Pretty Woman, with more malice and a different ending. This doesn’t rule out the presence of a fairy tale—even in metropolitan outskirts—and this is the most pleasing aspect, the delicate note, of the American director’s new work. While retaining his cinema’s distinctive features—the use of iPhones, a focus on society’s outcasts, the presence of immigrants and toxic families, and the debunking of the American Dream—Baker shows a greater desire to play with narrative conventions and soften the edges of his vision, now more relaxed if not fully reconciled. After a good hour of R-17 scenes and romantic entanglements, the film shifts to black comedy humor, set during a night out, featuring shady clubs, slapstick gags, and Russian-speaking neighborhoods. This is the best part of the film, where Baker’s lively and journalistic cinema meets genre elements and sharp writing. Always balancing irreverence and empathy, love for characters, and social criticism.

However, Anora also confirms the canonization of Baker’s cinema in the major festival circuit: we are far from the reckless roughness of his beginnings and already beyond the boundaries of independent cinema. It’s a softer, more fashionable work that, despite its excesses (too many locations, too long), blends pop elements, a taste for the grotesque, and smartphone realism with engaging ease. It’s a cinema no longer for the man on the street, but entrusted each time to a mix of talented young actors—notable is the protagonist, Mikey Madison—and seasoned veterans like Yuriy Borisov.

Suspended in the weak light of an indecisive sun, Anora is a transitional film: from the ecstasy of the dream to the melancholy of awakening. A snapshot of happiness and its negative. Another gesture of attention towards the forgotten, who don’t know what to desire and couldn’t even learn it. But at least they want to live.

Gianluca Arnone

Cinematografo, May 21, 2024


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