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The Schmooze

Friday Film: The Kindness of Strangers

Like Homer’s “Odyssey,” the film “Anita,” which screened in January at the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival and is showing until February 8 at the New York Reelabilities film festival, is the story of someone trying to find her way home. During the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, Anita becomes separated from her family. On her voyage back, Anita doesn’t encounter any gods, nymphs, or Cyclopes, but rather a disgruntled drunk, an uptight shopkeeper, and a lonely nurse.

Anita, played by Alejandra Manzo, has Down syndrome, and therefore lacks the king of Ithaca’s cunning. She knows what a phone is, but doesn’t know how to use one; she longs to be reunited with her family, but doesn’t know her home address. Like Odysseus, however, Anita must quickly bond with strangers if she hopes to survive. And what she lacks in street smarts, she makes up for in compassion. She is patient. She is kind. She is loyal to the point of relieving herself on a woman’s couch instead of disobeying a command to stay put. Anita’s gentle devotion and humble tranquility eventually win over everyone who takes her in.

The film, which was directed and co-written by Marcos Carnevale, presents Anita as someone with both a deficiency and a rare gift. Like a holy fool, Anita goes from stranger to stranger in search of food and shelter. She fluctuates from pariah to messiah and back again. While she depends on others for her material needs, she never leaves without providing the benefactor with some form of spiritual comfort, always giving more than she takes.

Overall, the film seems to plead with the audience to view it as metaphor. For example, the bombing of the AIMA, which leaves several dead and starts the whole chain of events, is never explained. Why did it happen? Who is responsible? Carnevale decides that no larger political themes need exploring. And this is a strength, not a weakness. Carnevale seems to be saying that bad things happen in life, and we, as cities of strangers, must learn to deal with them together.

At one point during the film, in an act of solidarity with the victims of the bombing and their mourners, a group of people is seen preparing a banner that reads “We Are All Jews Today.” It’s hard to view Anita’s trek as any different than anyone else’s plight in a world where inexplicable horrors occur. As one man admits after providing Anita with supper in his apartment, “I’m lost, too.”

Watch a clip from ‘Anita’:

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