By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
The fairy-tale forest of childhood is alive and well in “Nana,” a fictional film that could be mistaken for a hidden-camera documentary. Until you look closely.
“Nana” is the directing debut of photographer Valerie Massadian, and you can see her eye for lighting and composition in every shot. But this movie also lives and breathes in interesting ways.
We are on a farm in rural France. The opening sequence reminds us that life and death sit side by side here, as farmers slaughter a pig.
The act causes no consternation amongst the kids on hand; they live here, have seen this before, and recognize the killing as part of the cycle of their world.
When the next scene has 4-year-old Nana playing with piglets as her father looks on, it’s just another stage in that cycle.
Nana, played by the adorably expressive Kelyna Lecomte, is our focus. We understand what’s going on only at her level. She has a father and a mother, but we don’t see them together, and the mother takes Nana off to what appears to be a remote stone house far from the main farm.
At a certain point, the sad-looking mother stops appearing, and we see Nana, who has kept up a steady stream of chatter throughout, on her own in the house. She mimics the behavior of the grown-ups, and wonders what to do with a dead rabbit she finds in a trap.
You are welcome to infer what you want about the mother’s fate. But in the storybook that Nana’s mother reads to her, there is a hint that perhaps we are watching something that takes place in the realm of the fairy tale.
Certainly Massadian shoots the film to emphasize that this everyday setting can take on the feel of an enchanted place. In certain shots those woods look suspiciously like a realm where child wanderers should scatter bread crumbs to find their way back.
This movie and its immersive approach might have been an academic exercise were it not for the presence of its young actor.
Kelyna Lecomte is so amusing while spouting kidspeak (“I can read,” she blurts out to herself while alone with a book, although we might suspect she’s merely recalling the story from memory), she energizes these slightly eerie scenes with her own personality.
It isn’t too hard to imagine that what we see in the second half of the movie is her projection: a kid’s idea of what it might be like if she could run things alone.
“Nana” (3 stars)
We watch as a 4-year-old girl occupies a remote farmhouse after her mother vanishes. The immersive style might be academic were it not for the adorable personality of Kelyna Lecomte, who chatters throughout the movie’s series of slightly eerie scenes. In French, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Northwest Film Forum.