Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
It's an extraordinary documentary, for as it records the growth and development of a child, Anya, from the time she is a toddler to when she becomes a mother herself, it also captures the way Anya challenges her parents to grow as individuals and as parents.
Filmed by her father Marian and his filmmaking students over thirty years, what begins as an ordinary home movie when Anya is a toddler gathers depth as we follow her through her life, witnessing both enjoyable and painful moments--her first crush on a boy when she is still in grade school, distress over a teacher's comments that she talks too much in class, anguish over her parents' negative attitude toward her boyfriends, and joy at being accepted by a college.
One of the first images of the film shows the Marzynski family moving into their first home in the
In the background of Anya's growth and development is the story of her parents.
Marian, an award-winning filmmaker and professor of film, is also a Jewish Holocaust survivor who lost most of his family during the war. Smuggled out of the
Having been deprived of a normal family life, Marian appears fascinated and unsettled by his daughter's childhood. Documenting it is a way for him to examine what he never had. He dotes on Anya and spends many hours with her, all filmed in an in-your-face style, with the camera up close as they take baths together (when she is young), dance to rock and roll together, and gradually, as she gets older, have deep personal conversations. The closeness they achieve, the kinds of conversations they are able to have, even on camera, are rarely if ever shown on film.
The film doesn't explore in any depth how Anya's mixed religious background affected her, except to show Anya, when she is in grade school, discussing with her older brother whether or not she is Jewish. Anya says that her father told her that she is Jewish, but her brother says that she isn't because she does not "speak the Jewish language." Later, Anya is sent to a Jewish day school, but then has to leave it as she has too much difficulty with Hebrew. Years later, when Anya is suspended from the
After returning from Israel Anya attends a community college and then becomes an elementary school teacher. Observing her growth and maturity on the job is illuminating. Clearly, in the debate between nature and nurture, parents have some influence on a child, but a person's life experiences also have a tremendous impact.
Similar in certain ways to Michael Apted's excellent documentary series, (7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up and 42 Up), which filmed a group of British school children every seven years to see how they developed, Anya captures other effects of nature and nurture in Anya's life. Her lifelong difficulty in school seems to be an example of "nature," while her choice of only African American boyfriends appears to result from "nurture," as she attended a public school that was 90% African American.
After several interracial relationships, Anya meets and falls in love with Dominique, a Catholic man of Creole heritage who is a colleague of hers at an international school in
As Anya and Dominique begin to plan their wedding, his parents request that a Catholic priest perform the ceremony; Anya agrees if there can also be a rabbi.
By the time Anya marries and then has a son two years later, we have witnessed Anya and her parents age, grow, and mature. Anya is abl