Sundance 2022: You Won't Be Alone is Goran Stolovsky's fantastic folk-horror debut.

A Still Won’t Be Alone From You.

A Still Won’t Be Alone From You.

You will not be alone | Director: Goran Stolevsky

Cast: Alice Englert, Anamaria Maringa, Numi Rapes, Carlotto Castle, Felix Maritod, Sarah Klimoska

Duration: 1 hour 49 minutes | Language: Macedonian

A teenage witch wanders through the mountains of 19th century Macedonia, experiencing all sorts of things like love, sex, sadness, violence, and man, inhabiting the bodies of others. Each new identity she acquires gives her the opportunity to live and learn. Each life strengthens her own consciousness and rediscovers the world. An experience beyond her curiosity is slowly emerging. The first feature of Goran St‌lov‌sky, You Won’t Be Alone, documents the visual inquiry of identity and connection through the perspective of an outsider.

An atmosphere of prophecy hangs over this primary and influential play. Without body-swapping, hunting suspended piano notes, and a dissenting voice that threatens to engulf us, the film would have slipped into the naked pieces of 19th-century pastoral life. As a unique expression of a witch’s coming of age, it borrows from existing folklore while at the same time forming an identity of its own. Witches create inherently misspelled characters because they are women who testify to the power of the outsider in rebellion against traditional costumes and rebellion against an ancient society. Stolovsky’s witches do not run brooms, do not handle tarot cards, and do not keep ovens hot. Even a wounded old witch who has practiced dark art for a lifetime has a devastating background. Her anger against humanity is a ritualistic anger expressed.

The journey of the young Nevena (Sarah Klimoska) as a shape shifter begins with the accidental murder of Bosilka (Numi Rapace), the wife of a violent farmer. Living in the skin of Bosilka teaches Nevena the pitiful state of being a woman in a man’s world. Yet, at the same time, through the sympathy of the farmer’s mother and other women in the community, she realizes the healing power of the sisters. A short life as a dog allows her to observe humanity in a move. As a man (Carlotto Castle), she enjoys her first sexual experience and all the freedoms and privileges associated with gender.

Nevena finally settles on the body of a girl named Billiana, who falls deadly from a rock. If her former life came short-lived by accident or by reasonable self-defense, her final transformation is from a place of kindness. When Biliana’s body is taken over, Nevena effectively saves her and saves her parents from grief. It also allows her to regain the childhood she was rejected by her mother and grow up with family and friends. She becomes a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother of her own free will. Editing evokes a subjective flow of thoughts and feelings, with a single consciousness flowing from one host to another. In an almost magical moment, Billiana is a girl sitting on a rope swing on the porch. As it moves, she is a young woman (Alice Englert). What a gentle way for the characters to create and age the sequel.

When we first see Nevena, she is a baby. In the introduction, Nevena takes a cat’s POV camera as she enters her mother’s house. The cat transforms into an old naked woman with black nails, bubble skin, juicy hair and a burnt body. All the villagers call her Old Maiden Maria (Anamaria Marinka), the wolf-eater, the witch, and the wandering evil spirit. She is a boogie woman who is called by old wives to scare children into behaving badly. She came to feed her baby Nevena, whose mother was in a desperate bargain to raise her daughter until she was 16 years old. There is a blood feud, and the old maid Maria cuts the baby’s tongue and silences him forever. In a vain and ultimately foolish attempt, the mother hides baby Nevena in a dedicated cave, where she grows up to be a wild teenager. A small hole in the roof of the cave gives her a unique view of the outside world. Of course, no mother or prayer can stop the old maid Maria from collecting at the end of the bargain. She frees Nevena from her prison and turns the girl into her own type before sentencing someone else.

Old Maid Maria and Nevena’s mother present a study of the contradictions in helicopter parenting from different heights. The postpartum mother wants to protect Nevena from danger, controlling her daughter’s entire childhood and thus robbing a child. The old maid Maria keeps her distance and micromanages from the sidelines to make sure she doesn’t make the same mistakes. In the hope that she can nurture Nevena as an apprentice in her own image, she shows all her anger and resentment towards the girl. She is furious at Nevena’s innocence and is jealous of how easily she fits in with each community. A shocking backstory reveals the vicious cycle of anger and rage that the Old Maiden Maria has nurtured for more than two centuries.

Nevena’s curiosity remains undiminished despite the many transformations. The body will remain a disposable shell until the growing self-awareness removes her from within. She learns what makes us human beyond the limitations of our physical experience. Each of the actors who host Nevena brings her to a shared reality, while at the same time incorporating the lessons she has learned from each of her lives. Nevena’s silence and imprisonment emphasize how the actors use their physical fitness. A tired smile and heavy footwork show that a young woman is unnaturally adapted to live in someone else’s skin. When Nevena takes over Bosilka’s identity, the community explains that the rapacious channels that sever ties with child-like behaviors are the madness caused by her husband’s repeated abuse.

Every moment, wet or cruel, takes place in the great context of the natural world. There is a contradiction between the cruelty of mankind and the astonishing beauty of nature. Matthew Chuang’s paintings invite us to question how man’s narrow minds interact with the open expanse of landscape. When a girl is thrown into a world of violent transformation, Nevena looks at everything she sees with sincere inquisitiveness. In her questions she seeks meaning in the order and anarchy of the world. Because she is silent, voice-over allows us to tune into her thoughts. The inner monologue dances with images and sounds, broadening the view of the film.

What makes cinema a raw and visual experience is, by definition, its appeal to the raw viscera. To take the form of a person or an animal, a witch must fill her body with all the guts and gizzards. But sitting next to this anatomical horror does a magic trick and gets under our skin. You will not be lonely as the film is more interested in the journey of discovering humanity than being human. Stolweski’s answer to the second is to relationships that make us feel like outsiders. Beneath its magical face, one can collect a gentle reminder of the beauty and horror of humanity.

You Won’t Be Alone’s World premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It was the official selection of the World Cinema Drama Competition.

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