Friday, November 12, 2010

Argentine film about young woman with Down syndrome shows at 2010 St. Louis International Film Festival

From The Jewish Light in St. Louis:

The Argentine drama "Anita," about a young Jewish woman with Down syndrome in Buenos Aires who becomes lost in the city following an anti-Semitic bombing, is one of several prize-winning films at the 2010 St. Louis International Film Festival. It is also one of the selections in this year's Jewish Sidebar.

"Anita" won both the Audience Award and Best Picture at the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival, after debuting at the Pusan International Film Festival.

Anita (Alejandra Manzo, pictured) lives a sheltered, even pampered, life as the beloved daughter of widowed stationary shop owner Dora Feldman (Norma Aleandro, pictured) in a mostly Jewish district of Buenos Aires. Her mother dresses Anita neatly and treats her with hot cocoa and sweets, despite the mother's limited income. The two are close.

In early scenes, we see them stroll arm in arm through clean, attractive streets lined with historic architecture. On weekends, Anita's older brother Ariel (Peto Menahem) comes to visit them in their neat apartment over the shop. Brother and sister greet each other playfully.

But Anita's happy, protected life is disrupted when a bomb goes off in her neighborhood. In the confusion that ensues, Anita becomes separated from her family and finds herself on the streets far from home.

The film was both written and directed by Marcos Carnevale, who also directed "Else and Fred," an audience favorite from last year's SLIFF.

"Anita" features strong acting from a fine cast, including Norma Aleandro, known as the "Meryl Streep of Argentina," as Anita's mother Dora Feldman. Other strong performances include Luis Luque as the alcoholic Felix and Leonor Manso, who won the 2009 Argentinean Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a nurse named Nora who helps Anita. Manzo, who plays Anita, has Down syndrome, and she plays her part with a great deal of charm and appeal.

The film offers us glimpses of the poverty and violence that exists outside Anita's formerly quiet neighborhood, and also affords a hint of the city's diversity. Despite the tragic event that leads to Anita's journey, we also see the solidarity the city expresses, coming together to aid and support the victims. As she wanders lost, Anita encounters both kindness and indifference, and shows a growing resourcefulness despite her inherent challenges. As he searches for his sister, Ariel becomes more aware of her importance in his life.

Director Carnevale occasionally uses some interesting camera work but mostly frames shots to focus on the acting. A score of solo piano motivates the film's action.