Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 1:59 pm 
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A documentarian: too involved?

Very often it's something unexpected that makes a documentary come to life. It's when the severely autistic teenage boy, Anton Kharitonov, whom Lybov Arkus had filmed risked being put away in a clinic for life afterhis mother and caretaker Rinata was diagnosed with cancer that Arkus (a critic and editor) decided to become for a while Anton's main caregiver. She had already documented his precarious development over a six-year period. Arkus's film is artful and passionate, qualities aided by the cinematography of Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev. That, her closeness to Anton, and her emotionally resonant voiceover all contribute to making this an unusual film, about which one can't help having mixed feelings. When it showed out of competition at Venice Francesca Fiorentino wrote that she walked out convinced she had experienced greatness. Viewers have found the filmmaker's voiceover powerful and moving. But it is also absurdly tendentious, and the film, at a full two hours, is long and meandering. Luckily it has an apparently happy ending. Anton's bus driver father, who had another family and had shied away from the whole issue, finally took over Anton from Arkus, and we see him happy again, on a farm, being told what to do, which seems to be when he functions best.

The film exposes Russia's dismal public handling of mental problems; it is also simply a personal diary of a close maternal relationship (or does Arkus imagine this? Anton hugs a lot of people: hugging those he knows and likes is what he does). Neil Young argued in a Hollywood Reporter review that certain aspects that have made the film impressive for some for others represent a lack of perspective that led to somewhat excessive length. Young is unresponsive to the visual appeal of both Anton and Arkus, finding the emotion in the voiceover and the musical background unjustified by the information provided. One sees his point. However watching Anton, which Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev's camera provides us many opportunities to do, is fascinating. Only we wish more clues to the mystery of Anton's autism and autism in general were provided. After all this screen time, we are left with little more than what we can figure out for ourselves.

Arkus became aware of Anton via an "essay" he was said to have written seven years before she actually met him, and of course before his mother's cancer diagnosis. When near the end we hear Anton read the essay, it's perhaps not so "precocious" as she says: it's disjointed and odd, though that makes it poetic, and open to deep interpretations. Anyway after knowing about and visiting Anton with her photographer, she also helped his separated parents deal with the horrendous and shabby Russian bureaucracy. We don't learn much of anything about autism, or Anton's place in its spectrum. But we do see that Anton needs a very specific kind of help the state is ill-qualified to provide. It's only during a brief period at a nicer facility when a man called David spends all his time with Anton and tells him what to do, that he seems to thrive. When David leaves, he becomes ungovernable. Arkus' by then completely lack of detachment becomes clear when she is involved in as she calls it "kidnapping" (illegally removing) Anton from one of his worst way-stations, a mental institution. But we are happy she does this. But we wish Arkus held forth less about herself and life and told us more about Anton and autism.

The absent father who overcomes his fear of dealing with his son's disability recalls Gianni Amelio's 2004 The Keys to the House.

Anton's Right Here/Anton tut ryadom, 114 mins., debuted at Venice, showed at Vienna, Gothenberg and other festivals in 2012. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA joint series New Directors/New Films, March 2013.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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