The hyperactive Luc Besson is one step away from becoming a cartoon of the prestigious director he was known for being. A lot of water ran under the bridge from his emblematic The Perfect Assassin, but the Frenchman keeps the foundations of his films unalterable: solitary protagonists (strong women) and of few words, a plausible doubtful internal coherence, a transnational geography although centered in Paris and stories crossed by an overlapping and self-conscious humor.
All this seems elevated to its maximum expression in 'Anna', a spy film set in the second half of the 1980s -although cell phones, notebooks and several gadgets of the 21st century go in the opposite direction- so ambitious as failed, for ridiculous moments and with an impossible amount of script turns, always entertaining, never solemn.
The protagonist is 'Anna' (Sasha Luss), a beautiful young Soviet woman whom the film finds selling mamushkas at a street fair in Moscow. Until there comes a model recruiter fascinated with her Nordic features that there is no doubt in taking her to Paris to start a meteoric career in the world of catwalks. But Anna, in reality, is a hired killer whose true goal is far from fame and flashes.
It is not convenient to advance too many details of a neurotic and changing development, frantic and at times involuntarily hilarious, which includes an impossible amount of marches and counter-marches, of Soviet and American spies that are really something else, and not less than ten temporary jumps. It also changes the tones: Besson goes from a scene worthy of a romantic melodrama to an action scene through the streets of Paris, and from there to Anna's internal conflicts. He does it with the conviction of those who believe deeply in what counts, in the magnetic power of an irreverent and happily disrespectful film.
Besson, screenwriter, and producer of his own films, has always sought that his protagonists have a charismatic aura that generates empathy with the viewer. And more if they are strong female characters although subjugated. It does not matter that the story has a decadent appearance or that it develops from explosive violence. So it was with Anne Parillaud in 'Nikita', Natalie Portman in 'Lion', Milla Jovovich in 'The Fifth Element' or Cara Delevingne in 'Valerian'. And so it is with the Russian actress Sasha Luss, who had already acted with the director in 'Valerian' and 'The City of a Thousand Planets' (2017) as Princess Lïhio Minaa, in 'Anna'.
Unfortunately for Besson, charisma is not everything. Nor is it a luxury cast that includes an unrecognizable Helen Mirren in the role of the head of an elite group of the Soviet intelligence service to which beautiful Anna arrives. And much less the use of a narrative that wants to surprise with its stylistic resources of sardonic spirit. Besson abuses the analepsis to underline the absurdity involved in the weaving of espionage and high treason during the Cold War. These temporary leaps are a humorous accent, no doubt, but the resource becomes canine and even turn 'Anna' into a comedy that is neither satirical nor parodic as it could have been Besson's initial intentions.
In fact, humor is one of the fundamental elements in the filmography of the french director since his first works. And when it has been suppressed, the results have been disastrous for a film that is usually branded as commercial and shallow. 'Anna' shows that paying so much attention to those accents can have exactly the same results. Also, the mistakes in the representation of the time in which the story develops itself shows poor attention to accurate details like Besson didn't even care too much.