- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

“39 Pounds of Love,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, transcends a mawkish title through the singularity of its subject, the survival story of an American-born Israeli named Ami Ankilewitz.

Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 1, when his Mexican-born mother and Israeli father were living in Laredo, Texas, Mr. Ankilewitz has demonstrated enough tenacity and rallied enough devotion among family and friends to eclipse a prediction of childhood mortality.

Encountered at age 34 while residing in Tel Aviv, where he can function as a computer animator with the musculature remaining in the finger of one hand, Mr. Ankilewitz is introduced at a birthday party. Confined to a wheelchair, he is an undeniably shocking camera subject at first glance. His tininess and frailty recall nothing so much as the appearance of concentration camp victims in World War II documentary footage.

Mr. Ankilewitz annoys his parents for starters by announcing the intention of fulfilling a long-held desire: a return to the United States in order to meet the physician who initially predicted that he couldn’t live beyond age 6. This odyssey is summarized in the last half of the film. The director, Dani Menkin, is also one of the half-dozen or so caretakers who look after Mr. Ankilewitz while driving from Los Angeles to Texas and then Florida, where the doctor in question, Albert Cordova, is an elderly retiree in Miami — in a Tioga van. For a while, two other family members, mother Helena and elder brother Oscar, join the caravan. She is summoned when Mr. Ankilewitz’s condition causes the support group alarm during a stopover at the Grand Canyon, where his breathing becomes labored during a stroll along the South Rim.

—Mr. Ankilewitz stabilizes, and they press on to Dallas, where we belatedly discover the existence of Oscar, a brawny and prosperous family man with two children. Supposedly, he and Mr. Ankilewitz have been on the outs. Given the friendly reception, this sounds a little dubious. Quite a bit of family back story is never adequately accounted for during the movie’s short running time, but all the Texas interludes prove emotionally or humorously gratifying in one way or another.

So much so that you’re a little doubtful about the need for a confrontation with Dr. Cordova, whose identity and whereabouts are kept mysterious in a less than plausible way. It’s difficult to believe that his existence and location weren’t confirmed before the trip began. The face-to-face encounter looms as a bad idea, since so much of the movie has acquainted you with the people who’ve been preoccupied with caring for Mr. Ankilewitz and invalidating the notion that he’d have to be institutionalized or given up for dead.

Fortunately, Mr. Ankilewitz turns out to have been rehearsing remarks that don’t partake of resentment or false pride. Closure proves more eloquent than you anticipate.

Examples of Mr. Ankilewitz’s animation supplement the chronicle and tend to confirm him as an incurable romantic. His alter ego is a goofy-looking bird who needs to overcome an infatuation a reflection of Mr. Ankilewitz’s situation in the early sequences, when he parts company with a winsome Romanian caretaker named Christina. She has inspired a crush that makes further association untenable for both of them.

—”39 Pounds” doesn’t shrug off the severity of Mr. Ankilewitz’s disability, but it is persuasively wedded to the conviction that the life force originates and flourishes in the mind.

***

TITLE: “39 Pounds of Love”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter but suitable for older children — fleeting profanity and some clinical candor about physical disabilities)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Dani Menkin. Cinematography by Yoav Kleinman. Music by Chris Gubisch. Dialogue mostly in English but supplemented by English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes

WEB SITE: www.39poundsoflove.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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