What is it like to live with autism in Russia? A documentary depicting the daily challenges of an autistic boy over a period of six years is finally due to be released in Russia, a month after it was lauded in Venice where it had its world premiere.
Anton's Right Here is the brainchild of the prominent Russian critic-turned-filmmaker Lyubov Arkus. Her debut documentary chronicles her relationship with the boy who remains a child regardless of his actual age.
While autism is rising alarmingly throughout the world, the challenges of raising a child in Russia often seem to be next to impossible to cope with, the film's director Arkus soon makes clear.
The camera follows Anton Kharitonov while he undergoes a series of mental, physical, emotional and behavioral transformations. “He perceived the camera as a human being,” Arkus explained.
When she and her cameraman, Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev, first encountered Anton, he could hardly say a word and was fully absorbed in himself.
The film's director is overwhelmed by emotion instead, and is keen to help the teenager's single mother Rinata struggling to raise her only child, even more so after she is diagnosed with cancer.
The documentary story begins back in 2008, when Arkus somehow comes across an essay that Anton scribbled. He can hardly put words and letters together, but is constantly writing something on the walls or pieces of paper. One of his compositions is entitled "People".
"People can be seated, standing up, hot, warm, cold, real, metallic. … People are finite. People fly," Anton reports. “People endure, people can't endure, people will endure” he keeps repeating.
Anton is a can't-keep-still, kind of always-in-motion boy with curious eyes and a disarming smile. Winning Anton's love, trust and recognition is as big a challenge as for him making friends.
Arkus and her crew become more and more involved in Anton’s life while his mother battles terminal-stage cancer. Things get better when, thanks to the director’s involvement, Anton is sent to a unique facility – the only one in Russia, she notes, where people with autism learn basic social skills.
The boy is making progress, and in many ways thanks to a new friend, David, his guide in “normal” life. But when David goes away Anton's behavior becomes too much of an effort for the community. And since his mother is unable to take care of him, he eventually ends up in an overcrowded and understaffed psychiatric ward.
The Russian mental health system, which seems to refuse to recognize autism as a complicated medical condition, is among the most alarming issues tackled by the documentary.
“I've put the spotlight on a person who was given up on by everyone, including those who were meant to take care of him,” Arkus told the audience after one of the film's first screenings in Moscow.
After Anton's mother dies, his future has every chance of turning into a nightmare. Only thanks to the director's personal efforts does the boy's father, who only occasionally sees Anton, actually take him home and, what's more important, eventually learns to love and understand him.
“[Autistic people] go through hell in their souls. Only their parents or those who manage to win their trust can help them. Their life can be improved,” the director emphasized.
Autistic people tend to be less social. Their parents are badly wanted to encourage them to talk, and helping their kids learn how to behave in new environments.
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid,” Einstein was once quoted as saying, and his abstract words somehow relate to autism.
As a matter of fact, Anton's father actually makes the key decision to reunite with his son after watching the documentary about him, Anton's Right Here.
“He didn't see an invalid [in him] but a person with charisma. He was even proud of his son,” Arkus explained.
It could be one of the rare cases when film helped save someone's life.
The debut has been described by the influential Variety magazine as a “devastatingly moving [documentary] that makes [audiences] want to give everyone involved in it a bear hug after the credits roll, or at least donate to an appropriate charity.”
Valeria Paikova, RT
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