Review: Angry Annie
- French filmmaker Blandine Lenoir’s intimate take on the private struggle for the approval of abortion law in France back in the 1970s is an ode to female solidarity
Before being written down in history and thus gaining official status, groundbreaking social changes were achieved by living human beings, each of whom has left traces of blood, sweat and tears in their struggle towards their final goal. Blandine Lenoir’s Angry Annie [+see also:
film profile], which just received the Variety Piazza Grande Award at the Locarno Film Festival, zooms in on the personal efforts and sacrifices of the members of a small-town branch of the illegal organisation MLAC (Movement for the Freedom of Abortion and Contraception), which not only fought for the legalisation of the termination of unwanted pregnancies in France, but also organised safe abortions. Some of the rights that we nowadays take for granted were achieved by individuals who dedicated their whole lives to the cause and Angry Annie pays homage to those unknown heroes by bringing them out of anonymity.
Factory worker Annie, happily married and already a mother of two, is pregnant again, so she seeks help from the MLAC, which is known to assist women in her situation. They not only organise a free, secure and almost painless abortion, but also provide her with psychological support while leaving judgment aside, having themselves lived through such an experience. Grateful and eager to return the favour, Annie is at first hesitant to help out with their growing workload, but soon finds herself absorbed by the selfless tenacity and gentle sisterhood within the female collective. Hence she eventually gets fully involved in its everyday tasks by even starting to carry out abortions herself, as well as participating in the battle for the legalisation of abortion in France. Meanwhile, she goes through a personal emancipation process, which leads her to life-changing decisions.
In both of her previous films, Zouzou [+see also:
film profile] and Fifty Springtimes [+see also:
film profile], Lenoir reflected on female liberation from social restraints. With Angry Annie, she engages with history as well by reviving the atmosphere within this pivotal volunteer organisation, which only existed for two years before the French abortion law was approved in 1975. The film celebrates female solidarity and mutual support, which makes watching it fulfilling, if a bit tedious to follow, since the script (co-written by Lenoir and Axelle Ropert) barely develops a conflict. Although the plot reflects the clash between the law and the actual needs of women, this antagonism remains somewhat external to what actually happens onscreen. The only true confrontation within the narrative is that between Annie and her husband towards the end, although it remains peripheral to the main action thread. The real focus is on the loving relationship between the MLAC women, described as so unconditional and cloudless that it all feels too good to be true.
Ably performed by experienced actress Laure Calamy, Annie’s rapid metamorphosis from a shy stuttering worker and housewife to a strong woman with a personal vision is also a bit too sudden and not fully credible – neither the everyday make-up she starts using and the book on orgasms she reads, nor her activist involvement are likely to change a personality that easily. But the most problematic of the film’s flaws is its overly edifying tone. Along with the heroines who start learning about their bodies and sexual needs, the director’s approach towards the audience seems pedagogical, which feels naïve and out of place in the current context of ubiquitous sexual liberation. Other than that, Angry Annie is a nicely staged period film with powerful close-ups in dramatic moments, which however could have conveyed its message in a duration shorter than two hours.
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