‘ON a scale of 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with your life?’ This is the introspective question asked of Ana (Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson) at the start of Andrea Jaurrieta’s debut feature Ana By Day. We do not hear the answer, but it arrives after a series of questions that reveal all we need to know.
With Jaurrieta’s camera scrutinising Ana head-on in a close-up, there is no hiding the doubt on her face. We can read a timidity and gentle sorrow that suggest she has probably been asking these questions of herself for years or, worse still, trying to avoid them and their uncomfortable truths.
As we soon learn, Ana’s life is one of middle-class security. She is a bright, beautiful and responsible adult who seemingly has the rest of her life set up with a PhD and a wedding on the horizon. But the mysterious appearance of a doppelgänger gives Ana an unsettling pause for thought.
With this person’s arrival accompanied by sharp, scraping strings from Aurelio Edler-Copes’ score, we might expect the film to lead us down a dark thriller path in which Ana tries to wrestle her ‘normal’ life back from the doppelgänger – as seen in Daniel Goldhaber’s recent techno-thriller Cam. Yet Jaurrieta’s clever script has designs on a rather different tale of self-discovery.
Ana instead sees the doppelgänger as an opportunity to pack up and leave, break from the safety of her life and be someone else – perhaps who she has yearned to be all along.
Leaving the culture and cosmopolitan comforts of Barcelona behind, she quickly chooses an alias – Nina – and settles into a hostel run by the welcoming face of Sole (Mona Martinez). She also gets a job working as a dancer at a small-time Radio City Music Hall tribute club, a carnivalesque space that hosts a curious bunch of characters, all putting on elaborate masks to escape their lives and live the adventure inside them – albeit in a less drastic way than Ana.
This eclectic cast of characters includes the charming Maestro (Fernando Albizu), an old circus worker who wears powdered white make-up and hosts the shows – fuelled by cocaine. He becomes a de facto father figure for Nina, just as Sole assumes a motherly role. Both are drawn to the soft, lost-soul that Nina is when she arrives.
Ana’s transformation into Nina is also helped along by cutting her hair and dying it crimson red. Red for danger or passion? Try both, as Nina thrusts herself into a passionate love affair with a mysterious counterpart – Marcelo. It is an affair that accelerates her identity change, leaving her almost unrecognisable from the Ana we met at the start.
But no matter how profound the changes are, Nina still is left peering over her shoulder at the questions that follow her. Will someone recognise her? Is she missed at home? Has she gone too far? How long can she keep this up for? How long until the past inevitably creeps up on her?
There is a constant intrigue to Ana By Day helped by Jaurrieta’s interesting framing and compositions. She is constantly asking us to see and look at Ana/Nina in different ways. Even in the opening credits, Ana looks as though she is almost trying to stay afloat at the bottom of the frame as she runs on a treadmill. It makes for a notable contrast from the phoenix-like exotic bird that dominates the screen with up-right confidence when Nina is later on stage.
Jaurrieta gives us visual enticement in every scene, whether it frequent use of mirrors and fractured reflections (turning Ana into two) that confirm the newfound duality in her life, or the hypnotically edited montages that appear in the film’s latter scenes as Nina loses control. It is endlessly fascinating.
For all the praise to be lavished on Jaurrieta and her crew, there are too few superlatives available to describe Garcia-Jonsson’s performance. She captivates throughout, giving tender and inviting nuances for Jaurrieta’s often probing camera to be drawn into. It is a delight to watch, a tour de force lead performance that demonstrates a similar level of skill to Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper.
If Stewart is the best actor under 30, Garcia-Jonsson might have a claim to being the best European actor under 30. She is certainly right up there with Victoria Carmen Sonne (Holiday) for the best European performance of 2018.
‘A river runs through us all’ is the TS Eliot quote Jaurrieta leaves hanging at the film’s opening. By doing so, she invites us to put ourselves in Ana’s shoes. If you are willing to take up this challenge, it adds another personal layer of intrigue to an already compelling experience.
Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you be?
Me? I would probably seek out somewhere quiet with access to a cinema that frequently showcases filmmakers like Jaurrieta.
After all, Ana By Day is the type of gripping, visually enticing cinema I dream of watching.