Czech It Out

AT THE MOVIES:

Anna

Written by Agnieszka Holland

Directed by Yurek Bogayevicz

At the USA/Nickelodeon

IF YOU'VE ever seen All About Eve, or even A Star is Born, then you already know the plot of Anna: aging actress takes fledgling actress under her wing: fledgling's subsequent rise parallels her mentor's fall.

However, Anna gives this old premise some unusual new twists. Notably, Writer Agnieszka Holland and Director Yurek Bogayevicz decide that the aging star's decline is more interesting than either her protege's success or potential bitchiness between the two of them Young Krystyna (Paulina Porizkova) worships Anna (Sally Kirkland) even after she has eclipsed Anna, who in turn manifests no jealousy or ill will toward Krystyna, at least not until near the end of the film. Yet Anna's decay is inexorable, pathetic and real, and is correctly the film's focus.

Another twist in the story is that both actresses are Czechs transplanted in America. Anna was a beloved Czech film star until the Russian invasion of 1968, which took her film-director husband, her child, her freedom and ultimately her citizenship away. She washed ashore in New York, gradually losing her youth and her name recognition as an actress.

Anna's tragedy is that she could conceivably return to communist Prague, recant her politics, and become a star again, rather than remain in America and demean herself by jumping at understudy roles in silly, pretentious Broadway shows. As she tells her former acting professor, a Czech who has sold out his politics to regain his status, "My problem is I love America too much." He answers, "But America doesn't love you, and it never will." She replies, "But it leaves me alone."

America does love the beautiful Krystyna, too much to leave her alone. Even when she first arrives, a thin, gawky teen with bad teeth, who speaks no English, almost immediately a hot-shot director "discovers" her; he can't take his eyes off her. Anna takes in this poor Czech waif, who has sought her out after growing up admiring her on the screen, and within a year, Krystyna has learned English, had her teeth fixed (for free, by an amorous dentist), and landed the lead in a Hollywood movie. She remains pure and ingenuous, living a charmed life as she charms everyone, down to the little boys on her street.

In fact, Krystyna's story bears uncanny resemblance to that of Porizkova. Like her character, Porizkova fled the repression of Eastern Europe for America, where she found sudden fame because she is gorgeous. Just as her looks make the question of whether Krystyna has any real acting talent irrelevant to her success, so Porizkova's looks make the question of her own talent moot. It is not that model Porizkova demonstrates in her debut role that she cannot act, but rather, in this movie, Porizkova, like Krystyna, simply doesn't have to act.

By the same token, in order to convince that Anna is a talented actress, Kirkland displays a great deal of acting talent herself. Kirkland's performance shows the twin tragedies of Anna's considerable talent gone to waste and Anna's dissolution from dignity to near madness. Anna is a showpiece for Kirkland, one that, counter to the film's own premise, should set this deserving older actress' star on the rise.