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“Anita” in Argentina

Anita, an Argentinean film directed by Marcos Carnevale, begins with an everyday ritual that tells us about the loving, caring relationship between Dora (Norma Aleandro) and Anita (Alejandra Manzo), her daughter born with Down Syndrome.

The Feldmans live above their stationery store in the historically Jewish Once district of Buenos Aires. Anita’s life is bound by ritual — a meal of hot chocolate with vanilla biscuits her mother prepares to wake her in the morning, the way her mother helps her remove her clothes, how she washes herself in the bath, the lullaby her mother sings to help her sleep. She lives a comfortable and happy existence, but Anita’s life is limited even beyond the scope of her disability by her mother’s overprotectiveness.

On the morning of July 18th, 1994, Dora leaves to make a quick trip to the AMIA (Jewish Community Center) to cash a subsidy check for Anita’s upkeep. She warns her daughter not to climb the ladder to the top shelf, and tells her she’ll return when the big hand reaches the number at the top of the clock.

Almost as soon as her mother leaves, Anita climbs the ladder, despite her mother’s warning. Like any young person, she’s testing her boundaries. As she reaches for the top shelf, a terrorist bomb destroys the AMIA building, shattering buildings, lives, and the very framework of Anita’s existence.

Frightened and disoriented, Anita wanders the streets of Buenos Aires, searching for her mother, whom she knows only by the name of Mami. In the course of her journey, she encounters an alcoholic photojournalist, a family of Chinese immigrants, and a hardbitten nurse. They all end up touched by the girl’s ability to love openly, without judgment.

For Anita, the journey, although frightening, is one where she discovers her own resilience. The loving rituals she shared with her mother play a large part in her ability to survive when she is on her own.

This beautiful, poignant film resonated with me on many levels, but perhaps because, as the mother of a 17-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve long struggled with finding the right balance between wanting to protect and support my son while still allowing him to experience the consequences of life.

This film, which opened the 3rd Annual Reelabilities Film Festival (http://www. reelabilities.org), was also notable because it’s one where a character with special needs is actually played by an actress with the condition. Newcomer Alejandra Manzo did a spectacular job, and I hope her success will open doors for other actors.

Learn more about this film by visiting www.menemshafilms.com/anita.html.