Sundance Review: You Won't Be Alone
Goran Stolevski directs his feature debut, You Won’t Be Alone, with the assurance of a man who made over 25 short films before finally scraping together his first full-length entry. You Won’t Be Alone is patient without being slow; intimate without being talky; and luxuriously gorgeous without drawing attention to itself.
The film is nearly impossible to describe in detail – nor would I want to spoil any of its philosophical Matrishka-doll-shaped surprises – so suffice it to say that You Won’t Be Alone recounts the journey of a 19th century Macedonian witch who digs deep into the humanity of those she encounters in an attempt to learn something of herself.
There’s ancient folklore and stark body horror in Nevena’s journey, but these elements are less defining of the film than they are in service of Stolevski’s fascinations. Instead, it’s the director’s Malick-esque approach to capturing the unspoiled landscape of the rural mountain village where most of You Won’t Be Alone is set that is most fundamental to Stolevski’s style. And unlike some of Malick’s more frustrating 21st century efforts, this film matches style with substance, as the wide-eyed natural discoveries belong just as much to Nevena as they do to cinematographer Matthew Chuang’s vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses. Chuang and Stolevski’s images have just as much humanity as their story.
Perhaps the boldest storytelling decision in You Won’t Be Alone is the omnipresent – though still somehow sparsely deployed – voiceover narration. Stolevski combines this with a reliance on handheld and close-up shots to create a sense of intimacy with a character who not only barely speaks, but who is constantly changing before our eyes. Despite eschewing nearly all of the cinematic shortcuts developed for audience identification, there is nonetheless a strong tether between witch and viewer. It may not work for everyone, but for me, it was executed to perfection.
The acting must be noted. Sara Klimoska, Alice Englert, and Noomi Rapace carry a singular thread of curiosity-tinged wonder. Their fear, their anger, and their love all come from an unquenchable thirst for understanding and belonging. And Bethany Ryan’s production design is marvelous, treating details as disposable essentials: nothing is too small to get right, but undue attention is never drawn toward it.
You Won’t Be Alone is unlike any film I have ever seen.