Goran Stolevski

7.2 You Won't Be Alone (2022)

Goran Stolevski was born in North Macedonia but emigrated to Australia as a teenager and directed many shorts since 2007 before his full-length Macedonian-language debut, You Won't Be Alone (2022), an ethnographic fairy-tale produced by Kristina Ceyton, photographed by Matthew Chuang, with a soundtrack by Mark Bradshaw, and starring Australian, Portuguese, French, Romanian and Swedish actors. It is a very elegant film, that feels like baroque chamber music. The film's action is mostly narrated by voiceovers. In a rural village a mother is cradling her newborn baby. She sends away a group of children who are playing "hide and seek". A cat is roaming the area. Suddenly an old woman with a scarred face appears next to the baby. The mother is terrified and recognizes her as Maria, who is considered a witch (a "wolf-eateress") and is known to kill babies to suck their blood. The desperate mother promises that, if Maria spares the baby's life, when the baby turns 16 she'll become Maria's own maid. Maria accepts but before leaving, she touches the baby's mouth with her bloody fingers and the baby loses her voice. The mother hides the baby, Nevena, into a giant cave and then cries to everybody that the witch snatched her baby.
The baby grows in the cave. Nobody knows about her existence. She still cannot speak, but we can hear her thoughts. Her mother, still convinced that the witch wants her baby, punishes Nevena when she tries to leave the cave. On Nevena's 16th birthday an eagle flies into the cave and stares at Nevena. Nevena's mother, believing this is Maria, sees it and throws stones at it. The mother then chases the eagle and disappears. When she reappears, she looks different and invites Nevena to follow her out of the cave. And so for the first time Nevena sees the sky. Nevena follows the woman to the witch's home. We now realize that the witch has taken the mother's body. The mother/witch then performs some magic on Nevena that turns Nevena into a witch herself. Her nails grow into black claws. The witch now reacquires her scarred face. Maria kills an animal and forces Nevena to eat the raw meat and drink the blood, like all witches must do. When a young man approaches Nevena, Maria easily kills him and then slaps Nevena in the face for not attacking him. The witch soon becomes disappointed in Nevena, who refuses to become a strong and mean witch: the girl prefers to caress than to kill animals. We learn that a witch has only one chance to pick another witch and Maria picked Nevena, who turns out to be a gentle spirit, i.e. a failure as a witch. Maria turns into a wolf and walks away, leaving Nevena alone in the forest. Nevena wanders until she runs into a group of peasants working in the fields. She follows them to their village. She tries to caress a child but the child starts screaming when she sees Nevena's claws. Nevena hides and finds a baby who is crying. The mother attacks her and kills herself on Nevena's claws. Nevena opens her own chest to insert the entrails of the dead woman, which makes her assume her body too. Nevena is now Bosilka, mother of the baby, except that she's still a mute. She is found naked and mute by the villagers, who thinks she's gone mad. Her husband is abusive, but her mother-in-law is kind and affectionate. Maria watches the scene from afar. The women of the village gossip that she's turned stupid because her husband beat her so often. Nevena is amazed that other women cry and she cannot cry: tears just don't come to her eyes. The mother-in-law teaches Nevena how to be a good wife and a good mother. Maria is still watching unseen and predicts that the villagers will tear her apart. One night her husband tries to have sex with Nevena but the embrace kills him. Nevena pulls out the woman's entrails from her chest and reverts to her claw-augmented witch body. She turns into a dog and sees four half-naked young man masturbating while watching women pass by. She follows them. She turns it into a girl again and shows herself naked to one of them. He follows her and begins to make love to her. She kills him like she killed her husband and then assumes his body, becoming a man. Now she has to learn to work in the fields with the other men. Again, she's a mute and the others think he turned into a fool. The women gossip that "he" made love to a witch and she did something to him. Maria appears to him/her and scorns him/her. Nevena is terrified when a woman offers herself to him and begins making love. Nevena experiences the male orgasm. One day the women witness a child fall to her death from a cliff and run away screaming. Nevena opens her chest and inserts the child's entrails, turning into the child, except that, again, she is mute. She is now treated like a child by the mother and the others. She enjoys life with the other children. One day she and the mute boy Yovan listened to an old woman tells the story of Maria the witch: Maria was a spinster living with her father when she ran into a witch and begged her to get a husband and a child; a man came to ask her hand for his son with no explanation why the son didn't come in person; her father agreed and she traveled to the man's village; she discovered that the groom was dying and the family had tricked her into coming so that he could have sex before dying; she was tied and raped with the blessing of the priest by the dying man; the following day the man was buried; caught after killing a donkey in a witchy ritual, she was condemned to burn at the stakes; she survived but her body was scarred forever. Nevena grows to be a teenager and a young woman. She loves Yovan. Maria appears to foretell her that Yovan himself will throw her in the fire. She marries Yovan. On their first night, after making love, she shows him her witch's black claws. He doesn't care and makes love again to her. The two mutes live happily together in a humble rural house, but one day Yovan is killed by a beast, and the women blame Maria the witch. Nevena gives birth to a baby girl, and immediately looks scared, closing all the doors and windows: she's scared that Maria will come to snatch the baby away from her. Sure enough one day Maria appears next to the baby and, before Nevena can do anything, slits her throat. Nevena grabs the dead baby and performs the witchy ritual to create a witch, the ritual that a witch can perform only once. And the baby returns to life, now a witch herself. Maria watches speechless with tears in her eyes: it's what Maria has always dreamed for herself. Nevena stabs Maria to death. Nevena remembers all the lives she has led.

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