The Anna Cabrini Chronicles (2005) – By Kyle Hytonen

In the mid to late 1960’s, as the progression of cinema became more of a personal journey traversed by film-makers and the advent of smaller film formats such as 16mm became commonplace, the structure of how a film’s story is told began to take on a new shape. This progression was kick-started years earlier by the “French New Wave” of film-makers, the likes of Godard and Truffaut to name a few. These French films told a simple story, but turned narrative on its ear, utilizing jump cuts, freeze frames and to some more elaborate effect, breaking the 4th wall. It was surrealism paired with a new form of cinematic realism. This trend was brought into the forefront of wider audiences in 1969 with the smash hit Easy Rider. The harrowing Mardi Gras sequence in that film is a prime example of the French new wave school of film-making brought west by director/star Dennis Hopper.

In the modern digital revolution, some film-makers use this style as a way to get out of creating an interesting story or film, just mashing together a handful of images and sounds and calling it an artistic expression, soiling the road that the French new wave paved. The Anna Cabrini Chronicles, conceived and directed by Tawd B. Dorenfeld, shows us that even in the modern world and ease of digital film-making, the spirit of the French New Wave can live on.

The Anna Cabrini Chronicles is quite an achievement in cinematic storytelling, and is a dizzying combination of drama, sound, music, animation and editing. At the heart of the film is a parable on suicide- the symptoms, causes and effects of the act. Three separate non related segments make up the 115 minute film, all tackling this subject. The first is seen through the eyes of Brooke who lives her life surrounded by the pressure of creating a perfect existence around her. Brooke should live the prom queen life, and if it isn’t her family imbuing this mindset in her, she gets it from other sources as well. The second segment is a dark and brooding study of a lonely man named Jonathon. He consistently harkens back to days when he was happier, but all this does is make him more depressed as he sinks into his shattered psyche more and more. The third and most vibrant segment features a young teen boy named Merrick, adopted and living with an abusive family that does nothing to improve his individuality or happiness. Merrick lashes out by living the punk-skater lifestyle, and seems hell bent on self destruction.

Using both a documentary and narrative storytelling style, director Dorenfeld meshes so many styles in this film it is quite hard to keep up. Intercutting between grainy film footage, black and white, shaky video, traditional animation and well-designed cinematic compositions director Dorenfeld has a great grasp of many mediums. A film like The Anna Cabrini Chronicles can’t necessarily be pigeon-holed for a specific type of cinematic style; it is an art film if there ever was one. The great thing about The Anna Cabrini Chronicles is at no time does the film or the director seem to be showboating with its kinetic presentation. One soon realizes the main focus is not technical prowess, but speaking about the subject of suicide in a very eye opening manner. It has been a while since I have seen a film so engrossing as The Anna Cabrini Chronicles. Acting is sparse at best (young Bryan Trujillo as Merrick is a standout), but the director and his craft are what make this film unique, a most refreshing experience and well rounded nod to the French new wave of film-making. Although The Anna Cabrini Chronicles was produced in 2005, it is now available to rent or purchase online. More info is available here: http://www.annacabrini.com