Courtesy of Cannes

Cannes Review: Anita Celebrates the Woman Who Shaped the Stones

Cannes 2023

/
6 mins read

Anita
(USA, 110 min.)
Dir. Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom
Programme: Cannes Classics (World Premiere)

 

The rock gods of the 1960s and ’70s have certainly been given their due on screen. The Rolling Stones are particular well served by dozens of docs, from exceptional ones like Brett Morgen’s Crossfire Hurricane, Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light, the Maysles’ masterful Gimme Shelter, or even Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil. Others are far more salacious, including Cocksucker Blues, which remains mostly erased from the official canon, with Robert Frank and Danny Seymour delving into the debauchery of the period only seen in selected segments or via poorly preserved bootlegs.

However, beyond the band, there was a retinue of individuals who helped shape the era: producers, managers, hangers-on, and groupies alike. Yet for the Stones, one woman who especially shaped their early years, a woman who transcended easy categorization save for being a creative muse and romantic obsession for some of the most legendary rock stars of the age.

Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom’s film Anita shines the spotlight on Anita Pallenberg, the Italian-born, German-raised child of artistically inclined parents. She spoke four languages, became integrated into Andy Warhol’s close-knit circle of collaborators, and then found herself the romantic partner of Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones’ ostensive original leader. Anita details how this young woman quickly became the focus of entire scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to her unique beauty, refined taste, and celebrated charisma, she quickly became known internationally.

Through a series of recently recovered home videos, this intimate portrait conveys the sweep of Anita’s connection with the world of art, music and fashion. As an actress she attended premieres in Cannes, with a starring role in Volker Schlöndorff’s 1967 film Degree of Murder. Jones was tasked with doing the soundtrack in between bouts of physical violence directed towards Anita and, with his increasing instability, his fellow guitarist from the Stones, Keith Richards, became involved with the project. It was around this time that Pallenberg’s affections shifted, and she would eventually have several children with Richards.

Only a few years later, while on the set of Performance starring Mick Jagger, she would have a dalliance with the lanky singer. This affair made her more famous for her romantic relationships with the majority of the band than for her own achievements. Anita contextualizes this period well, including making clear how Pallenberg’s fashion sense contributed to transforming these London boys into late-’60s icons, the paisley patterns and flowery shirts, previously thought effeminate, blooming to what would soon be considered chic.

In one of the several contemporary interviews conducted for the film, supermodel Kate Moss describes Pallenberg as “the ultimate bohemian rock chick.” The images presented are so indelible for the period that it’s impossible to divide Anita’s contribution from how the Stones presented themselves during this time. As children came, and her focus turned to home, we hear directly from those affected, including Richards and the surviving children he had with Pallenberg, Marlon and Angela, about the effects of her rampant drug use and loneliness during a tumultuous period. The film never shies away from the more morbid moments, but does so with a sensitivity that seems poised to keep the general celebratory tone intact.

Thanks to the participation of Richards, Schlöndorff and others, there are plenty of Rolling Stones songs and film clips sprinkled generously throughout. Pallenberg’s role as the baddie in Barbarella receives appropriate consideration, especially given that this is perhaps her most indelible role, and we’re treated to glimpses of some of her now more obscure performances and successes. Pallenberg proved to be quite the survivor, and her public appearances and roles later in life are given attention as well, illustrating the tenacity of the woman while refusing to shy away from the travails along the way.

Anita does well to introduce new audiences to this figure who helped shape the lives and careers of some of the most celebrated artists of the rock genre, but does so without making Pallenberg anything less than the star of her own story. In a period that chewed up many, especially women, it was her powerful personality and fierce intelligence that helped her survive. The film’s efforts to shift the conversation to recognize her participation not only in the projects of that era, but the tangible ways in which she shaped the vision of the Rolling Stones, becoming the subject of many of their best songs just as she provided sartorial advice and emotional support, results in a film that’s both engaging and enlightening even for those that think they’ve seen it all before.

 

Anita premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

 

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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