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Thriller Thursdays: Analysing Luc Besson’s spy thriller, Anna

The 2019 film adopts Besson’s signature template of fast-paced action with a femme fatale as the protagonist.

  • Sunil Bhandari

  • OTTplay

Last Updated: 05.00 AM, Jan 06, 2022

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Intro: In our new weekly column, Thriller Thursdays, we’ll recommend specially-curated thrillers that’ll send a familiar chill down your spine.

"For now, enjoy the moment.

Give yourself time, Anna. It plays in your favour. Let the currents move beneath you. Powers will shift. Enemies can vanish. Do what you can to stay alive. Time will do the rest. "

It’s a rare action-thriller that expounds zen in the middle of its hustle. But Anna, which follows the tumultuous journey of a female KGB operative, who’s desperate for an exit, is a film from filmmaker Luc Besson, a veteran of 33 films as director and 68 as a writer, who could well have been speaking to himself. Besson’s remarkable oeuvre, which includes the iconic Léon, Lucy, The Fifth Element, and Nikita, is no stranger to the stylised caper.

But he is known to stop mid-stride in a film, and muse on the philosophical underpinnings of life. . In this film, it happens when Anna finds an existential hole in her soul, just as he did in the entirety of his giddy Lucy, where he explored the concepts of infinity, knowledge and presence. And all of it, whilst cars exploded and guns with silencers recreated bloody paradigms.

Anna evokes a familiarity with the terrain, but with devilish mid-stride twists. The film follows her journey from being a street dweller to being hosted by a brute who owns her with violence and sexual exploitation. The KGB home onto her, on the back of a botched job application, and she is found worthy of becoming a spy. And off she goes to Paris with a modelling agency gig as a front. The assassinations commence, as Anna prospers in her cover as a model and as a reliable honey trap for enemies. This is, of course, until she slips up in infinitesimal ways. And the mayhem commences.

Besson knows pace. He also knows the payoff from frenetic action is a factor of emotional engagement. Hence he makes sure that we get to know not only Anna but the other protagonists too. One of the pleasures of the film is the meatiness of the roles. Particularly, Helen Mirren as Olga, the Head of Soviet operations, is an absolute hoot.

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Needless to say, the action is first-rate. As the movie seamlessly moves between Anna’s preparatory and the present, it never loses pace. . The first set-piece, inside a restaurant, is a pulsating piece of a one-woman destruction machine, where a knife, a glass shard, a rod, two pieces of a broken plate, two pieces of a gun and some bare knuckles are put to some very satisfying use to neutralise some very bad men. There’s something kinetic about Sasha Luss as Anna, an iciness with vestiges of desperation and a hint of vulnerability, which makes the audience feel that, yes, she will prevail, but not without getting hurt.

The script cleverly brings in both KGB and CIA to converge onto Anna with their versions of exploitation. In the world of espionage, then, there is little to distinguish one spy from the other, except for their accents. And as in all endeavours, it is not the strengths which finally define success, but fallibilities.

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In the end, one is completely unsure about who is playing whom, and the script unravels some wonderfully wicked surprises.

Olga calls Anna a “bitch”, which is the last word uttered in the film. But it is not superseded by the overwhelming refrain of Anna, which she utters right at the beginning of the film – “Let’s go home.” For a spy, an ordinary turn of sentence can often be overloaded with intimations of impossibilities. To achieve it is, in itself, a triumph.

Did you know?

Anna was barely publicised on release, and paid the price for it, with some very poor box office pickings, because Luc Besson was facing multiple sexual harassment charges at that time.

Watch Anna here 

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

(Written by Sunil Bhandari, a published poet and host of the podcast ‘Uncut Poetry’)


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