Monday, April 20, 2015

Holocaust-lite: Roberto Faenza and Edith Bruck scamper down memory lane in ANITA B.

Its poster heralds this new film as coming from "the producers of Life Is Beautiful." That alone could send many of us running for the hills, as it brings back memories of a truly appalling movie, as well as of one of the most embarrassing acceptance speeches/performances in the history of the Oscars. I might not have bothered watching nor covering this new film, except that I am an admirer of its director, Roberto Faenza, who earlier gave us Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, and his still-unreleased-in-the-USA, The Soul Keeper.

I have interviewed Signore Faenza (shown at right) and heard him speak quite intelligently and well about various matters concerning filmmaking here and abroad, and so -- even though the man is credited as both directing and helping to write ANITA B. (along with others, including Edith Bruck, the woman upon whose supposedly autobiographical novel the film is based) -- I cannot help but think that this may have been simply a for-hire project for the talented filmmaker.

Whatever. The end result is something bizarre in the extreme: a kind of fairy-tale, post-Holocaust film in which its mis-cast leading lady, playing a young Holocaust survivor, keeps a smile on her face through thick, thin and otherwise, while insisting that everyone around her -- including a two-year-old child -- learn and/or remember what happened during those terrible times.

That actress, a young woman named Eline Powell (above, who was much better in a smaller role in last year's Private Peaceful), tries her best to get a handle on her character, but as composited by the various writers, she seems more like a girl who stumbled in from some Disney-level fairy-tale and has decided to act as a therapeutic cheerleader in getting her surviving friends and family to face up to things.

The movie is not uninteresting, so far as it offers up a rather wide range of incidents in the lives of Jewish Holocaust survivors in the immediate post-war years. Yet almost all of these incidents come across as overly sanitized and thus not very believable.

Further, the screenplay manages to over-explain and over-do just about everything we see and hear. This might be serviceable for younger viewers who have little knowledge of history and World War II, but for those of us who do, the film quickly grows tiresome.

Certain lines stand out like the proverbial sore thumbs: "What wrong with being Jewish?!" asks Holocaust-surviving Anita, when her aunt suggests not parading this fact before the new Russian conquerors. Since our girl has been warned about this previously, you begin to wonder if the character has a death wish or has maybe come out of the concentration camp with a few marbles missing.

In addition. the movie tackles everything from the Holocaust to teenage sex, pregnancy and abortion in an utterly simplistic, storybook manner. If this is really how Ms Bruck (née Steinschreiber, who now lives and works in Italy) recalls her history, there is something drastically wrong.

Perhaps the resulting film is more due to its producers' insisting on a Hollywood-ification of Bruck's story. Once you've seen the movie (if you do), click here to read a bit about what really happened -- without the feel-good, fairy-tale overlay. Unlike Life Is Beautiful, which -- for all its glossy, big-budget look -- proved a poor attempt at turning the Holocaust into a feel-good film, Anita B. seems less offensive than just plain silly.

The movie -- via DigiNext and Four-of-a-Kind Productions and running just 88 minutes -- opens this Friday, April 24, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and on April 30 at the Pelham Picture House.


Frank McGinty said...

Finally, I know I'am not alone in feeling that 'Life is Beautiful' was completely overrated. I would be interested to read your opinions on Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty' if you get the chance.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Frank, and you can find my thoughts on The Great Beauty here:

I just finished reading your piece on London Boulevard, another movie I enjoyed more than many critics. I shall have to read more of you!