Sean Baker turns to New York for this ’kick-ass Cinderella’ story 



Source: Cannes


Dir/scr: Sean Baker. USA. 2024. 139mins

Sean Baker’s fascination with chaotic, charismatic sex workers continues with Anora, a wildly entertaining, modern-day screwball comedy set in 2018 that barrels through New York and Las Vegas. Mikey Madison is a revelation as Anora, a feisty exotic dancer and sometime escort who, after a whirlwind week of partying, finds herself married to Ivan (Mark Eydelshteyn), the son of a Russian oligarch. But wedded bliss is abruptly curtailed when Ivan’s father’s harassed factotum Toros (Karren Karagulian) arrives with orders to impose an annulment. Ivan promptly scarpers. And Anora is left to fight tooth and fake nails for the marriage that she still half believes is grounded in real love.

Baker continually ups the ante on the picture’s unruly humour and propulsive pacing

There’s an almost Safdie-esque jangling energy to the film, or the first two-thirds of it at least, that belies just how elegantly structured and controlled it is. Baker continually ups the ante on the picture’s unruly humour and propulsive pacing. The headlong, no-brakes approach to storytelling will likely be familiar to fans of Baker’s other pictures – there’s definitely a kinship with Red Rocket (which also premiered in Cannes Competition) and Tangerine. But this kick-ass Cinderella story has its own distinctive flavour and appeal, much of which comes from the personality of the city in which the story is predominantly set (the film takes in Manhattan, Coney Island and Brighton Beach). Neon holds the rights.

Anora, who prefers the name Ani, first meets her princeling suitor in the Manhattan gentlemen’s club where she works. He requests a dancer who can speak Russian (Ani is of Uzbek descent, she can understand Russian though prefers not to speak it), and is immediately smitten. He offers to pay her to be his girlfriend for a week – a week that includes a private jet trip to Vegas and a four-carat diamond ring. Eydelshteyn brings a gangling Tiggerish man-child playfulness to the character of Ivan, and he is just about appealing enough that we don’t assume that Ani is solely drawn to his bank balance. But the breakneck editing of the round of clubs, drugs and lots of frantic, inelegant sex tells us all we need to know about Ivan’s attention span.

The picture shifts up a gear with the arrival of Toros, who is preceded by his hapless friend and associate Garnick (Vache Tovmasyan) and a taciturn Russian heavy named Igor (Compartment Number 6 star Yura Borisov). Garnick and Igor are tasked with keeping the newlyweds at Ivan’s home, a vast concrete edifice that looks as though it was built to store gold bullion rather than to house people. But Ivan sprints away, and Ani puts up a fight that leaves Garnick bleeding and Igor quietly impressed with her right hook.

Baker reunites with Red Rocket cinematographer Drew Daniels, trading the 16mm film of their previous collaboration for 35mm and anamorphic lenses, in homage to the New York stories of the 1970s. The film certainly looks terrific: unlike the colour-saturated, sun drenched, eye-popping onslaught of his previous three films, the East Coast winter informs Anora’s palette. Grainy greys, blacks and whites are punctuated by slashes of sinful scarlet, with the Vegas sequence playing out in synthetic candy shop hues. And the timeless trashiness of off-season Coney Island is used to particularly desolate effect. The music choices meanwhile – lots of brash, grinding rap and sexually explicit lyrics – suit the tastes of the characters, but can get a little wearing after a while.

Where the film excels is in the writing, and the deft handling of tonal shifts. The crescendo of hostilities between Ani and those who seek to part her from her new life abates and the film ends with something unexpected: a bittersweet moment of human connection.

Production company: CRE Films

International sales: Filmnation Entertainment

Producers: Sean Baker, Alex Coco, Samantha Quan

Cinematography: Drew Daniels

Production design: Stephen Phelps

Editing: Sean Baker

Music: Matthew Hearon-Smith

Main cast: Mikey Madison, Yura Borisov, Mark Eydelshteyn, Karren Karagulian, Vache Tovmasyan, Ivy Wolk, Darya Ekamasova, Lindsey Normington