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You Won’t Be Alone (BFI London Film Festival 2022)

4 min read

In a 19th-century Macedonian village newborn baby Nevena is marked by the witch or wolf-eatress as the film calls her, Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca), who wants to take Nevena for herself. Nevena's mother bargains to keep her child until her 16th birthday, hiding her away in a cave as she tells her fellow villagers that her child has died. Despite these efforts Maria returns to claim Nevena (Sara Klimoska), training her in the shapeshifting magic of the wolf-eatresses. In the abusive care of Maria, Nevena watches humanity and begins to long for the closeness and connections she's so far lacked for her entire life.

This atmospheric tale tells of the tragedy of life and the terror of just merely existing in this world, as Nevena goes from village to village taking the forms of different humans and experiencing their lives. Muted by Old Maid Maria at birth, Nevena narrates her own story in voiceover, which gives the viewer a unique look into her psyche as she begins to understand the role around her. She remains mute even when in the form of other people, making it somewhat easier to assume their identity, with the villagers believing that their fellow resident has become mute, either due to trauma or from being cursed by a wolf-eatress. During the years Nevena spends among humans, Old Maid Maria turns up from time to time to tell her prodigy that she's wasting her magic or to hurl insults at her.

Taking the form of different individuals, Nevena is played by a number of actors, and at one point a dog, throughout the story. As Bosilka (Noomi Rapace), she learns of the gender roles one is expected to play in society, abused and violated by her now-husband, while finding some form of acceptance and affection, that she has so far lacked her entire life, in her mother-in-law. Next, she takes the form of a young man named Boris (Carloto Cotta), in whose life she enjoys the greater freedom offered to men of this time period. She then takes the form of a ten-year-old girl, named Biliana, who she remains as until she grows into a young woman (Alice Englert). In this life, she experiences the joyful and carefree childhood she had been robbed of and feels the thrills of first love.

Eventually, the viewer, and Nevena herself, are told of the tragic backstory of Old Maid Maria, who, herself was abused and violated, but where Nevena transforms her pain into a fascination with life and all it entails, the good and the bad, Old Maid Maria instead continues the cycle of abuse with her treatment of Nevena. Throughout the stories of both women, there are some rather disturbing scenes, with both being victims of rape. While some films can overdo these scenes or add them in when they are unnecessary, that isn't quite the case with You Won't Be Alone with these women's pain being an intrinsic part of the story, and it's rather accurate for this time period with both being forced into sex with their respective husbands. There also tends to be a rather brutal end for the rapists in this film, which can feel somewhat cathartic in the aftermath of their actions.

The screenplay, written by Goran Stolevski, who also serves as the film's director, has an interesting take on the monstrous feminine and the trope of the old crone. We see Old Maid Maria as she is now, a Freddie Krueger-looking old witch, and we see who she was before, a regular woman desperate to be loved, and how she became who she is now due to her pain and trauma. Whereas Nevena was raised alone and longs to be a part of society, in spite of the pain it can bring, Maria was raised in society and now, due to the pain of existence, is set apart from the rest of humanity.

Billed as a film, those expecting this to be particularly true to the genre may find themselves somewhat disappointed, although it certainly has the feel of a . There are no jump scares or ghosts or iconic but gruesome kills that usually make up this genre. The story in itself is something of a disturbing fairytale that is difficult to really place in any genre. Those who have particular affection for folk horror will perhaps find this to their tastes, but those who prefer a simple straightforward horror may not.

You Won't Be Alone is an atmospheric tale about the pain and tragedy of just merely existing in the world, and how other people and love itself can make all this worth it. This makes for a film that is certainly worth a watch, even if you may shed a tear as the story progresses.

You Won't Be Alone will be screened at BFI London Film Festival 2022