Three-and-a-half stars out of five
Starring Anna Diop, Thandie Newton, Bojana Novakovic
Written by Andrew Davies
Directed by Anna Diop
16A | UK | ★★★☆☆
If you are looking for a leper’s tale that will get you off from the house at night, you could do a lot worse than Anna Diop’s engrossing debut feature, an adaptation of the title short story by Sebastian Barry. In this field, Anna Diop is one of those rare filmmakers you can point to and say, “This person can do whatever they want.” In Anna, her protagonists are truly ordinary: Anna (Diop) has given up everything she knew for a series of activities undertaken with great ceremony at the start of each day: “eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, having tea”.
They are also spent on the board game Quo Vadis, a tedious game played against a ticking clock until death or bankruptcy strikes, to the delight of Anna. When that day finally comes Anna adopts the game’s theme and begins to treat it as her own private time: “She began to think it was a matter of right and wrong to sit at the end of the table, so that no one could disturb her.”
Given that Anna is not the same person in every aspect of her life, and certainly not in terms of gender roles, it is easy to see why she maintains this lonely existence, and why she agrees to be on a mission to figure out the person who abandoned her as a girl. A second character is Siri, a 10-year-old girl living in Sierra Leone, whose father was in Guantanamo Bay when she was eight, a few years before she was born. It is her uncle, who now considers Siri to be his biological daughter, who has had Anna living with him, cleaning, teaching her the violin and bearing her two daughters. These two are both involved in a conspiracy to use computer games, Siri’s having become Anna’s new addiction, of which the resulting paranoia and paranoia threaten to ruin their lives.