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Goran Stolevski You Won't Be Alone Review

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You Won’t Be Alone | Review

You Won’t Be Alone | Review

Practical Magic: Stolevski Impresses with Eloquent Folk Horror Trauma

Goran Stolevski You Won't Be Alone ReviewNature and Nurture are the affixed ingredients in a codependent dance swirling under the surface of You Won’t Be Alone, a transfixing and stirring debut from Goran Stolevski. An international co-production wallowing in the emotional and physical trauma underlying historical folk horror tropes, it’s a magnificently inventive exercise through its incorporation of a specific 19th century Macedonian dialect (despite a diverse ensemble of actors from around the world). Although sinister and rather troubling, Stolevski steers clear of the exploitation elements often mined in femme centric horror, particularly where women and witchcraft are concerned. What’s left is a stellar rumination on gender roles and their prohibitive affect on the pursuit of happiness.

In 19th century Macedonia, a woman in a small village barters with a hungry witch named Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) to save her infant daughter. The witch, whom the villagers refer to as a Wolf Eateress, relents when the mother agrees to let her snatch her daughter when she reaches sixteen years of age. Immediately, the woman confines her daughter in a stone cave with religious paraphernalia, believing it’s the only place she’s safe from the clutches of the witch. But sixteen year pass, and like clockwork, the shapeshifting creature kills the mother and turns Nevena into a witch. Whilst learning the way of the wood and the world, it’s clear Nevena is an innocent, and soon, Maria abandons her, leaving Nevena to fend for herself. Coming upon a woman (Noomi Rapace) in a nearby village, Nevena takes her form, and thus begins her journey of finding out what it’s like to be human, reclaiming experiences she’d been denied all her life.

Stolevski’s technique of omniscient narration uniquely allows him to navigate an impressive cast, the most prominent, of course, being Noomi Rapace. In a flurry of off-beat, often abrasive projects Rapace has thrown herself into, she at last lands on something special in You Won’t Be Alone, and Stolevski allows her a standout segment as the abused Bosilka. It’s through her Nevena learns a disparity between men and women, and the resiliency of the latter through eons of despair exacted upon them by men. It’s this segment where Stolevski formulates how tears and laughter, which signal the fluctuating emotional capacity inherent to the human experience, become formidable goalposts for Nevena, raised like the mythical protagonist of a Grimm Bros. fairy tale in utter isolation from the world.

A canine experience provides a quick segue to Nevena discovering masculinity and the pleasure of sex through the vessel of Carloto Cotta’s Boris, a performer whose range of expressions (likewise his performance in the over-the-top Diamantino, 2018) recalls Chaplin’s silent tramp. His lovemaking with the unhappy Stamena (Arta Dobroshi of Lorna’s Silence, 2008) introduces an erotic dimension through equanimity, repeated later on between Alice Englert and Felix Maritaud before Old Maid Maria comes to ruin the day with her dark hearted bitterness. As Nevena, relative newcomer Sara Klimoska (who starred in Milcho Manchevski’s latest, Willow, 2019) is a cultural connecting tissue as the doggedly buoyant changeling, whilst Englert and Maritaud, efficiently conjure up enough empathy for the finale’s devastation—for they’ve stumbled upon something worth losing.

Overshadowing them all is Anamaria Marinca as the crispy witch, perhaps her most compelling turn since her breakout in Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007). Arguably, her back story (which has shades of Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, 1943) might eventually feel unnecessary, but it deepens our understanding of her experience for the strangely emotional finale. Stolevski’s script deftly navigates the broken comprehension and vocabulary of a troubled, isolated young woman, which swiftly develops through her experiences. A curiously lighthearted score from Mark Bradshaw (Campion’s Bright Star and Top of the Lake) feels perversely cheerful, lending You Won’t Be Alone an exploratory vibe.

While many may wish the film leaned more sharply into the shackles of horror, Stolevski creates something wholly unique and meaningful, where nightmares contain a moral silver lining and, conversely, real life is a hellish landscape where the dreams of the innocent and naive wither into seeds of spite. Like Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), darkness abounds, but the cruelest, scariest, most unfathomable element is the reality of women in a world dominated by men.

★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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