Lyubov Arkus is a Russian magazine editor. A few years ago she got her hands on an essay written by an autistic boy, Anton, where he writes about how he sees the world. They decided to make a documentary about him, and when the originally planned director has to cancel in the last minute, Arkus takes his place. This kicks off a very tight relationship between Anton and Lyubov and an accompanying of Anton from living with his mother until she gets sick, to federal institutions, uncovering the woeful state of mental health care in Russia.
Anton tut ryadom has an interesting story to tell, but it does so in a rather manipulative and overlong fashion. Also, it doesn’t tell the story it thinks it’s telling – rather than being an indictment of the mental health care in Russia, it is a pretty interesting look at how the film crew grows ever more involved into the story.
The film crew followed Anton over the course of four years. And they, especially Lyubov Arkus herself, got very much involved with Anton and his story, breaking practically all the rules that usually go with the documentary field. Like staying impartial. And that is pretty interesting to watch.
But chronicling four years of your personal story means that there is a lot of material and not enough distance to boil it down to the essential bits. And so the movie gets a little too long and a little too emotional – which makes it feel like manipulation more often than not.
The quality of the film material is also not great. I get that this was not a high-budget production but it doesn’t feel like they tried to make up for it at all. It doesn’t get too bad, but it does give the film even more of an emotional home movie feel.
Nevertheless, I found the film quite engaging. And I loved Anton’s essay that we got to hear at the end of the film. I can understand how it inspired them to go on this documentary/crusade.
Summarising: despite being too long and not distanced enough, it is an interesting look and perspective.