Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Anita B: Surviving the Aftermath

Anne Frank should have had the chance to become a young woman like Anita. Although she is a Holocaust survivor, she is ready to start living again. However, unlike the extended relatives she now lives with, she is absolutely unwilling to forget the past. This leads to tension in Roberto Faenza’s Anita B. (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Somehow, Anita survived Auschwitz, but most of her Hungarian family did not. She is finally leaving the Red Cross shelter to move in with the only relatives she has left—her Aunt Monika (sister of her dearly departed mother), Uncle Aron, and his kid brother Eli. Thanks to the expulsion of the Germans from the Sudetenland, they were able to find a sufficient flat in their new Czechoslovakian homeland.  Much to Anita’s surprise, Aunt Monika is decidedly cold when receiving her, but not Eli. Anita tries to discourage her advances, but she slowly falls for his awkward charms.

Whenever Anita tries to talk about her horrific experiences, she is abruptly shut-down. As a result, she can only really talk to Roby, Monika and Aron’s toddler son, who immediately adores Anita. Unfortunately, as she slowly falls for Eli, the mounting Communist oppression and the widespread anti-Semitic sentiment they foster do not bode well for the future. That is exactly why David, Anita’s salt-of-the-earth workmate, plans to immigrate to what will soon be Israel.

Anita B. is an English-language Italian-production set in Sudetenland Czechoslovakia, featuring Hungarian characters, but it does not have the tin ear you might fear. Faenza also shows a fair degree of restraint when it comes to the melodrama. The film rather matter-of-factly depicts Anita’s struggles with the coming-of-age process and the realities of being Jewish in postwar Eastern Europe.

Eline Powell (who had a small but memorable role in Private Peaceful) sensitively portrays Anita’s strength and vulnerability. On the other hand, Irish actor Robert Sheehan somehow combines the worst character traits of a womanizing cad and a gangly sad sack as Eli. However, Clive Riche and Jane Alexander add a lot of seasoning as an understanding doctor full of surprises and Sarah the local recruiter for the Zionist immigration movement.

There are no scenes of the actual horrors of the Holcaust in Anita B. Some might find that questionable, but this way, the unsavoriness of post-war anti-Semitism is not dwarfed on screen by the enormity of Anita’s time in Auschwitz. It is a respectful film and perhaps a tad too tidy, but it focuses on an intriguing but under-dramatizing transitional period of history. Evangelical audiences will also appreciate it holds pro-life implications, in a variety of ways. Recommended for those looking for a straight-over-the-plate, life-affirming film, Anita B. opens this Friday (4/24) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.