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Nature or Nurture

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Branko Starcevic/Focus Features

MOVIE REVIEW
You Won't Be Alone (2022)

Mysterious portents and severe punishments abound in "You Won't Be Alone," Goran Stolevski's feminist fantasy that could be slotted into three different genre boxes without being fully at home in any of them. Entirely set in the lush leafy countryside of 19th Century Macedonia, an enchanted world where at least one of the creatures in local folk tales is constantly lurking just out of sight, the film's highly affected atmosphere and a languid breathy voice-over narration of knotted esoteric sound-bites will drive some viewers up the wall. So perhaps might its themes, not for their meaning so as much as for the chosen style of presentation, as if multiple different intentions had been squashed through the gene splicer.

The film's baseline is a slow-burn folk horror mythology, in which a disfigured witch known as Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) gives a young girl the power to body-swap herself into other people, effectively a way to steal their lives in order to live them vicariously. Why this is intended as a burden not a boon becomes clear towards the end, by which point Old Maid Maria's own agonizing life has also been depicted; but it allows young Nevena (Sara Klimoska) to pass through several individual stories and turn into several other actors. As these stories take shape it becomes clear that the landscape may be mythological but the social issues are of current concern. Nevena lives as a new mother in a community where women are practically breeding stock: "When the man is in the room you are stew," explains another women. Then Nevena lives as a man, and finally as a young girl in a seemingly settled environment. She stays in this role long enough to grow up and fall in love with a local lad, before Old Maid Maria returns. "He'll find you out," she intones, as if a hidden deception was the female baseline.

That the women in the film are generally either mistreated or in a struggle for basic happiness is a message that the extended fantasy business and whispered profundities probably amplify and dilute in roughly equal measure. The story's violent husbands certainly come from lines of violent fathers, although where this leaves the violent wives and mothers who also crop up is a knotty question. But the film's air of profound oddity and stylized gore applied to such explicit evocations of feminism and identity mean the film has some of the electric currents of Angela Carter, re-rooted back into the Grimm folk territory she was tapping into in the first place.

Comments

"You won't be alone" is a brutal and deeply moving story which is not easy to pull off and Goran Stolevski has painted it pretty dark and gore with great cruelty. Recommended, not to the faint of heart.

Tim, "I won't be alone" in saying, that "you" have written an excellent review! To the point and also with a beautiful choice of words.

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