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Anita

Posted Oct 26 2010 6:58pm
In this poignant drama, Anita Feldman (an extraordinary debut by Alejandra Manzo) is a young woman with Down Syndrome. Lovingly cared for by her mother (Oscar® nominee Norma Aleandro), Anita helps run her small stationery store in their Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood. Everything changes on July 18, 1994, when a car bomb explodes outside the AMIA Jewish community center, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds. Disoriented, Anita wanders the city for days – trusting to chance and deeply affecting everyone she meets." In Spanish with subtitles.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Tonight was the first night of the Boston Film Festival, with the showing in Framingham of "Anita". I actually got to go on a 'date' with my husband (who is miraculously home this week - the only week for months), along with my friend J, the principal from the boys' school (CK), and a movie theater filled with people over age 60.

It was beautifully acted. Beautiful. The mother is portrayed by one of Argentina's best actresses. The brother was excellent. And the young woman who played Anita was terrific.

But.

At the beginning of the movie, you see the mother painstakingly caring for her daughter, who is probably in her 20s. Some of it was totally "on". At a visit to the cemetery (dad is passed away), mom turns her back for a moment and Anita is gone...wandered down the path to collect stones. But that look of panic on mom's face, totally real.

[Did I mention that the principal, CK, has a grown son with Down syndrome? Just to put it into perspective for you. Two mommies of kids with DS, although her son is in his late 20s, so certainly at a different point than Sofia.]

But.

The mother takes care of her daughter at all times. Helps her undress, talks her through taking a bath. Anita has lovely table manners, and loves helping mom take care of the stationary store.

I wanted to ask CK if the look of weariness that frequently passed over the mother's face was real, or just heavy acting. The tenderness of the relationship, however, was totally real to me.

Brother Ariel is married, but visits each week along with his wife. But he wants to get along with his own life, and doesn't want to have to take his sister to the zoo - he'd rather watch the World Cup game. Sister is disappointed, and you get the feeling this is a frequent occurrence.

Then comes July 18. Mom leaves Anita at the store while she runs over to the AMIA to pick up Anita's benefits check. Anita climbs up on a ladder (which mom had told her not to do), and Boom, the bomb blasts.

Dazed, Anita wanders out of the store, is shepherded onto a bus to the trauma center, and treated for superficial cuts from her fall off the ladder. And then she wanders away. Out of the hospital.

And this is where it gets annoying.

Sweet, innocent Anita, wanders in the cold (July is winter in Argentina, remember?). After a night on the streets, she sees someone using a pay phone, wants to make a call, but doesn't know how. And meets Felix. A down-on-his-luck photographer, fighting with his ex-wife, owing money. You know the stereotype.

And sweet, innocent Anita reaches out her sweet, angelic-looking hand, and of course he helps her!

So Felix takes care of her for a day or two, never bothering to call the police (ok,
this is post-Pinoche Argentina. It took us all a while to understand the fear of the police that would be totally natural there). Then he ditches her on a bus.

And Anita finds herself in her next situation. This time, after the screaming Chinese grocer lady kicks her out of the store twice, aged Chinese mama insists she be helped instead. And she is taken into the family.

Felix even comes into the store and sees her...and runs away.

She stays with the Chinese family (mama screaming all the time), until a robbery scares her away. Sweet, scared, innocent Anita wanders the streets again.

This time, some guys collecting junk (apparently illegally) find a sick and sleeping Anita under a bridge. One junk collector insists on taking her to his sister, a nurse. Sister, of course, fights it but eventually takes Anita in. Even comes to really care for her.

Meanwhile, through all this, brother and sister-in-law are waiting to hear. Are mama and Anita among the survivors? Those scenes, listening to the rabbi and social worker read the list of "those still missing", were harrowing.

And throughout, you can see that brother is torn. If they are both gone, that is one terrible thing. But the horror of having mama die but Anita found scares him *^^*less.

But he keeps looking, while Anita becomes part of the nurse's life. Eventually, they are reunited.

Ok.

But.

Of course, all the folks in the audience were SO MOVED by this. It tugged every heart-string. Oh, how sweet.

Well.

Anita's speech was very clear, and her table manners were excellent. Knife and fork, difficult fine motor skills, perfect.

Yet she couldn't say anything more than "mummy said when the big hand gets to that top number, she'll be back."

No one ever asked her more. Other family? Other things about her neighborhood?

And she knew nothing. Didn't know her own last name - only gave the nickname her mom called her. Didn't know her phone number, address. Nothing.

Sitting there, with David on one side of me and CK on the other, I kept thinking about my five year old daughter. And about CK's son. Even now, Sofia is starting to be able to say Rothkopf. She would certainly talk about Micah and Sam, along with other people in our lives. Yes, I have a 'taggie' on her, pinned to her shoe, with her name, address, and our phone numbers - something this overprotective mother would not have bothered with, since she was always with her daughter.

But Sofia would know how to use a phone. She might not dial the right numbers, but she already knows how to pick up a phone and dial (randomly, I have learned the hard way).

CK said no way would her son have gone hungry - he would have charmed food out of anyone. I could see that with Sofia, too. "Hungry!" Not meek.

Maybe that's just a family difference. My family, as well is CKs - not especially shy or retiring people. A quieter family may produce a quieter person.

But really.

CK asked, when the movie was over, what was the point of making the "foil", the pivotal person, someone with DS. My answer is equally cynical - because they could. Her sweet, angelic presence "deeply affected" all these less-than-perfect people she ran into.

Ok.

Sigh.

Like I said, beautifully acted. But long, and emotionally manipulative. Which made it disappointing. But did I mention beautifully acted?
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