"Anna from 6 to 18"
Opened: June, 1997 | Unrated
Risking himself against the rigid censorship laws of the late Soviet Union, director Nikita Mikhalkov ("Close to Eden," "Burnt by the Sun") shot a reel of film once year interviewing his young daughter about her loves, her fears and her thoughts on the world. The result is the documentary "Anna from 6 to 18," which sets Anna's childhood against the downfall of Communist rule in Russia.
Starting on her sixth birthday, precious and pensive Anna answers kiddie questions like "What do you love the most?," "What scares you the most?" and "What do you want the most?"
This first year her answers are as imaginative as one would expect from a 6-year-old. Witches scare her and she wants a crocodile.
But as she grows older, her answers become more worldly and insightful, and father laces the film with news footage of fateful events in the of the fall of the USSR and on-the-street interviews with common Russians.
Mikhalkov creates balance between the three elements that makes a heavy-handed political statement, and the film suffers somewhat as a result. Mikhalkov has no subtlety. The audience is manipulated, and so, it seem at times, is Anna.
At age 8 what she wants most is to be intelligent and what she fears most is giving wrong answers to her father's questions. Mikhalkov comes across as a strict father and a bit of a propaganda machine for the democracy movement.
The director's voice-over explains that he had originally intended the film to be nothing more than a home movie of his daughter growing up but he found himself interviewing her about the death of Soviet leaders and national events and began to see potential for a personalized documentary.
The idea is sound and Anna is a good subject, but Mikhalkov shows us very little of her life outside the annual Q&A. His accomplishes his goal of illustrating the enormous gap between the people and the government in the old USSR. He personalizes the point by letting us know Anna and watch her become a reflective, intelligent teen with a strong love of country and family.
But Mikhalkov's pontificating weighs "Anna" down. The film should be a look at the Soviet Union's collapse through the eyes of a growing child, instead it watches the Soviet Union collapse while a child grows up.
A fine distinction to be sure, but the result is that we never get very close to Anna.
As a political documentary, "Anna" is a creative approach, but in the end it is 80 percent political commentary and on 20 percent Anna.