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SUNDANCE 2022 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Review: You Won’t Be Alone

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- In Goran Stolevski’s atmospheric, yet a tad too Terrence Malick-y, feature debut, witches really are everywhere

Review: You Won’t Be Alone
Noomi Rapace in You Won’t Be Alone

Wandering around thick forests and 19th-century villages, and stopping somewhere in between arthouse and the kind of fare you watch at midnight laughing out loud, You Won’t Be Alone – shown in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance – is an odd, odd duck. What starts off as a Macedonian Terrence Malick flick takes a different turn once one of the characters starts casually grabbing and throwing out her own intestines while continuing her stroll, and later munches on a raw rat. To say that Sundance is really delivering on the genre front this year would be a grave understatement.

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Goran Stolevski, in his feature debut, establishes the mood right from the start. Tending to her newborn daughter, a mother is visited by a shape-shifting creature known in the village as a “wolf-eateress”, covered in hideous scars (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [+see also:
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Anamaria Marinca, although it takes a while to figure that out). Bargaining begins – desperate for some time, the woman promises to give her daughter away once she turns 16 years old. Once the agreement is reached, she hides the child away in a cave, hoping to trick destiny. But it doesn’t work in most fairy tales, and it doesn’t work here, and when the time comes, the girl (Sara Klimoska) follows her new mistress.

Not that she would know any better – stashed away for so long in the dark, she is now more of a small animal herself. She doesn’t talk, and even her thoughts are broken and child-like, as she tries to make sense of their new life as “witch mama and me-the-witch”. Curious about the world and tired of being slapped around, she gets the chance to escape, assuming the body of a young mother who died protecting her child (Noomi Rapace post-Lamb [+see also:
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, still committed to the weird factor). What it takes to actually become her is too much fun to spoil, but although she might look the part now, the change is easy to spot, and the villagers usually know what it means. Then again, she doesn’t seem to care all that much; she just wants the experience: the experience of being a woman, a man or a child. Once she can start all over again in a way, and grow up, she finally feels happy. But the one who first claimed her is never far away, growing lonelier and more jealous.

Stolevski is clearly having none of that “a witch is always a woman” Roald Dahl nonsense. In his film, a witch is not some lovely old lady punished for curing people with herbs – it’s a spirit travelling through time, borrowing bodies and taking in what they feel, be it excruciating pain or pleasure. The latter, it needs to be said, comes along rarely – for the most part, it’s a harsh life, ruled by violence and fear. Her mistress, known as “Old Maid Maria” and still mentioned in tales, was hoping for love once and only got hurt. She has never experienced the good things, but despite her warnings, her protégée still wants to try.

For such an out-there, bloody story, You Won’t Be Alone is also quite sad, touching upon trauma and that ultimate dream to escape, become someone else, and feel what they feel. “What isn’t strange?” wonders the girl, still not used to her new surroundings. Certainly not this movie.

You Won’t Be Alone is an Australian-UK-Serbian co-production staged by Causeway Films with Head Gear Films, in association with Metrol Technology. Its sales are handled by Bankside Films (UK).

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