Lost soul adrift in Argentina
“Anita” may be about a young woman with Down syndrome (the astounding Alejandra Manzo, in her film debut) but it isn’t naively uplifting in the way of a movie made for Lifetime television. Set in Buenos Aires, it’s an unsentimental portrait of one lost soul among the city’s outcasts.
Opening moments feature the too-little-seen Argentine actress Norma Aleandro as Anita’s widowed mother, Dora. These low-key scenes reveal much about their mother-daughter relationship. Dora dotes on her adult daughter with a brusque tenderness that comes from close familiarity. She reads while Anita bathes, patiently answering her many questions. She fixes Anita’s daily breakfast of hot cocoa and vanilla biscuits. She sings Anita to sleep in the home they share above their stationery store, David Feldman and Sons, located in a modest Jewish neighborhood.
One Feldman son is Ariel (Peto Menahem), who lives nearby and works in a corporate office. It isn’t clear what happened, but the film hints that Ariel has broken from the family business. Still, with his likable wife he visits his mother and sister for Sunday dinner.
Monday morning begins an ordinary day in which Dora and Anita head down to their store. Dora has to make a quick trip to the nearby community center to pick up Anita’s subsidy check. While she’s gone, a bomb rocks the street. Anita emerges from the rubble disoriented and with a bruise on her face. She’s quickly pushed onto a bus by frenzied passersby and taken to a hospital.
What follows is an episodic journey for both the distraught Ariel, who arrives daily at the local Jewish community center with hopes that Anita and Dora are not among the dead, and Anita, who has left the hospital in an unfamiliar part of the city and is now lost and disoriented. She encounters first the alcoholic photographer who feeds her and puts her up for the night but then, not knowing what to do, puts her on a bus and abandons her.
Next, she wins over an Asian grocery store owner who reluctantly takes her in. And finally, she returns to the streets, where a pair of junk collectors finds her lying ill in a doorway and one of them brings her to his sister, Nora (Leonor Manso), a nurse. The hardened Nora clearly has some unnamed problems of her own, but slowly warms up to Anita. When Nora trips and falls, it’s Anita who cleans the cut on Nora’s face and sings her to sleep.
Director Marcos Carnevale based the story on a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and wounded hundreds. It would be simplistic to read Anita as a stand-in for the victims of violence; she’s more representative of all vulnerable and trusting people adrift in a confusing and unjust world. The strangers she encounters are just as lost, just as vulnerable. Their interactions with Anita in some small way humanize them.
Guillermo Zappino’s naturalistic cinematography lets us see Buenos Aires in all its crumbling glory, full of diverse people who live behind heavy metal grates and in shadows. It offers a portrait of Anita as a real human being, without falling into pathos or easy sentiment. The film is generous not just to Anita but to the assorted strangers she meets, each with his or her own afflictions that cripple kindness.
Loren King can be reached at email@example.com.