Anita (Eline Powell), the hero of Roberto Faenza’s new Holocaust film, is a Hungarian Jew and, as the picture opens, survivor of a recently liberated Auschwitz, where she had been interned since childhood through the war.
We’re introduced to Anita as she’s welcomed, a bit cautiously, into a small-town home in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. There her Aunt Monica (Andrea Osvárt), now Anita’s closest living relation, is leading a quiet, docile life with her family — and wants very much to keep the horrors of the Shoah in the past.
Anita’s arrival, it soon becomes clear, makes all this willed ignorance difficult: In this young girl’s face Monica sees the lingering pain of a history she’d rather not think about. This is an intriguing crisis, and one that, like many of the logistical problems to arise in the immediate aftermath of the war, has scarcely been dramatized on screen.
But just as it seems on the verge of yielding a nuanced view of the Holocaust’s emotional and psychological fallout, Anita B. recedes into platitudes and cliché. A more conventional dilemma appears and swiftly eclipses the rich historical one: Anita falls in love and in short order finds that she’s pregnant, the cause of much overdone handwringing.
Anita B. is a loose adaptation of Quanta Stella C’è nel Cielo, the recent memoirs of real-life Auschwitz survivor Edith Bruck; her story deserves a rigorous approach, not one mired by sentiment. Giving a subject this serious over to schmaltz is beneath contempt.