Anna Kannava, who has been making poetic shorts and personal documentaries since the early 1980s, is recognisably part of a Melbourne Minimalist school.
Her films are about everyday dreams and disappointments – shot through with a strong sense of life's difficulties. Real life seems eternally elsewhere for Kannava's pining, sensitive, ever-waiting heroines – in the past, or in the natural landscapes of another country, a lost motherland.
What lifts Kannava's work beyond a kind of suburban neo-realism is a strongly lyrical aura, and an investment in the realm of transfiguring desire. Her films are built on dream-sequences, paintings, music, dance, and a whole, sensual experience of fabrics and textures – a special and intimate 'female aesthetic' proudly claimed.
So it is not for nothing that Ellen (Maria Mercedes) in Kannava's first narrative feature, Dreams for Life, seems to live most fully when she is in bed – the privileged place of dreaming and solitude, contemplation and recuperation. But what awakes and troubles her out in the streets is an odd, ghostly apparition: young Martin (Dai Paterson), the handsome, soulful brother of a disturbed lover from Ellen's past.
What unfolds from this premise is not a soap opera. Kannava is concerned with the small tremors in Ellen's life, the barely noticeable but internally powerful transformations of the spirit. Her solitary gestures of swimming or walking are just as significant as the decisions she must make about relationships. And the film, in its quiet but confident style, embodies this character's 'visionary' experience.
Dreams for Life richly extends and fulfils the promise of Kannava's previous work. Cheekily taking its title from a self-help book, Dreams for Life is not afraid to confront the ersatz wisdom of the New Age movement in order to dig deep into the emotional truth of slogans about loving yourself, or coming to the peace with the past.
Anna Kannava died 5 May 2011, aged 51.
© Adrian Martin March/June 2004