You Won’t Be Alone (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): The tale of a shapeshifting witch

“You Won’t Be Alone” is a little strange film mainly revolving around one woman who happens to become an entity equipped with one certain supernatural power. Although it is rather elusive in terms of story and characters, the movie often gives us mesmerizing moments while phlegmatically following its heroine’s bumpy journey, and it earns a little genuine poignancy when it eventually arrives at the finale along with her.

At the beginning, the movie, which is set in some rural mountain area of the 19th century Macedonia, shows how its heroine, named Nevena (Sara Klimoska) happened to be marked by an old witch named Maria (Anamaria Marinca) when she was just a little baby. While Nevena’s mother was going through another usual day with her daughter in their little village, Maria suddenly appeared in front of them for taking away Nevena, and her mother desperately plead with the witch for some mercy. Maria accepted her plea, but she is going to take away Nevena anyway once she becomes 16, so Nevena’s mother consequently attempted to fool the witch via hiding her little daughter in a nearby cave.

When she eventually grows up to be 16, Nevena is eager to experience the world outside while still stuck in that cave, but her mother is more concerned than before. Of course, she and Nevena are soon found by Maria, and Maria is certainly ready to keep her dark promise on Nevena. After killing Nevena’s mother, she assumes the appearance of Nevena’s mother, and Nevena has no choice but to accept Maria as her new mother.

While Nevena stays around Maria, we come to gather that Maria has wanted to have her own daughter. Once Nevena also becomes a shapeshifter just like her, Maria shows and teaches Nevena a lot of things including how to change her appearance, which is not so pleasant to say the least. After killing an animal or a human being, all she will have to do is putting some flesh and blood into the opened cavity inside her body, and then she can be transformed into the very entity she has just killed.

However, as time goes by, Nevena and Maria come to conflict a lot with each other mainly because Nevena wants to experience the world more while Maria does not approve of that at all. After Maria eventually abandons Nevena, Nevena goes to a nearby village, and that is the beginning of her journey. She quickly assumes the appearance of a young peasant woman she happens to encounter and then kill, and, as she clumsily tries to live as that woman in the village, the movie makes some pointed observation on how things were usually hard and difficult for women in the past due to their patriarchal system.

While experiencing the hardships of being a woman, Nevena naturally becomes curious about man, and she takes the next logical step when she encounters a young man not long after discarding that peasant woman’s appearance. Not so surprisingly, she often finds herself limited by what men are expected to do, and others around her are so disturbed by her odd behaviors that they even perform a sort of exorcism upon her male body at one point.

Meanwhile, Maria continues to hover around the story, and the movie brings some human complexity to her via an old folk tale about her. As a woman who has been denied of many things including her own happiness, Maria cannot help but feel more bitterness and jealousy as Nevena is experiencing and enjoying human life via one human identity after another, and she is not so pleased at all especially when Nevena comes upon what may be a real happiness for herself later in the story.

Although it is often driven by its heroine’ internal monologue, the movie sticks to its distant attitude to the story and characters in a way not so far from the works of Terrence Malick, and director/writer Goran Stolevski, who made a feature film debut here after making several short films, and his cinematographer Matthew Chuang give us a number of lyrical visual moments which are seemingly random but then come to generate a solid narrative flow onto which we can hold. Besides Nevena and Maria, many of other characters in the film are no more than mere plot elements, but they look convincing as the parts of the period background at least, and Stolevski and his crew members did a splendid job of establishing their realistic period atmosphere on the screen.

In case of the main cast members of the film, they are all believable in their respective parts. While Sara Klimoska functions well as the center of the film, Noomi Rapace, Carloto Cotta, and Alice Englert are seamlessly connected with Klimoska as required by the story, and Anamaria Marinca, who was unforgettable in Cristian Mungiu’s great film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007), has some vicious fun with her witch character as looking quite unrecognizable due to lots of make-up.

Although it may frustrate you to some degree due to its dry and austere storytelling approach, “You Won’t Be Alone” will eventually interest and fascinate you if you are ready for something quite different. Yes, this is another your typical arthouse which will require some patience from the very beginning, but I assure you that it will linger on your mind much longer than what we usually watch at local multiplex theaters these days.

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