An unusual twist on the whatever-happened-to-the-Nazi genre, "Anima" --- and its docu filmmaker lead character --- turns the lens on a reclusive, rural elderly couple with a mysterious past connected to the Third Reich. Pic's technical credits are first-rate, but the blend of country-folk sentiment, comic relief, occasional avant-garde technique and a plotline testing the limits of credibility doesn't jell. With no significant names attached, commercial prospects appear limited.

An unusual twist on the whatever-happened-to-the-Nazi genre, “Anima” — and its docu filmmaker lead character — turns the lens on a reclusive, rural elderly couple with a mysterious past connected to the Third Reich. Pic’s technical credits are first-rate, but the blend of country-folk sentiment, comic relief, occasional avant-garde technique and a plotline testing the limits of credibility doesn’t jell. With no significant names attached, commercial prospects appear limited.

Opening is promising. Following some fine computer-generated graphics connoting the Third Reich, writer-director Craig Richardson intros Bill (Bray Poor) and a few odd, endearing characters he’s interviewing for a docu on taxidermy. Kate (Rica Martens), for example, is a Julia Child–like taxidermist who is funny and believable in both Bill’s docu and pic itself.

Then there’s lovey-dovey Sam (George Bartenieff) and Iris (Jacqueline Bertrand), sweet, almost overly devoted old codgers who are also taxidermy experts. Their presence is always signaled by violin or cello, and their every move is coded as rustic and Euro, which is particularly surprising given thesps’ poor foreign accents.

Through his research, Bill discovers the couple’s possible Nazi past and intrudes on their very private existence — “bullies” is the word Sam aptly uses — to interview Sam about his background in taxidermy.

The couple’s isolated, too-charming upstate New York home is a showplace for stuffed birds and small mammals; they even operate a bizarre puppet theater using stuffed fauna to re-create the Nazi period. None of this ever seems believable, but persistent Bill buys into all of it to prove his hunch.

At this point, Richardson goes out on an even longer limb by moving pic into Grand Guignol, as if placing Norman Bates’ mother in Frankenstein territory. He then reveals the couple’s closely guarded secret, which is so far-fetched in terms of historical possibility that it defuses what little interest remains in the characters. (Supposed cause-and-effect connection between Nazi atrocities and American juvenile delinquency is also hard to swallow.) The off-key acting by the three leads does little to boost audience empathy.

Anima

(DRAMA)

Production

A Tangent Films/Other Pictures production. (International sales: Tangent Films, Jamestown, R.I.) Produced by Dan Partland, Christopher Roberts. Executive producer, Sarah Beinecke. Directed, written by Craig Richardson.

Crew

Camera (color), Randy Drummond; editor , Kelly Korzan; music, Joel Diamond, Adam Hurst; production designer, Bonita Flanders; costumes, Laura Kay Coggeshall; marionettes, Dan Butterworth; assistant director, Kelly McKaig. Reviewed at Gen Art Film Festival, N.Y., May 4 , 1998. (Also in Newport Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Sam ..... George Bartenieff Iris ..... Jacqueline Bertrand Bill ..... Bray Poor Cam ..... Geoffrey Cantor Hans ..... Mark Mineart Jack ..... Stan Lachow Chubby ..... Tom Brennan Tommy ..... Richard Bright Kate ..... Rica Martens
With: Shirl Birnheim, Amelia Campbell, Erik Jensen, Betty Jinnette, Ian Stuart, Paul Klementowicz, Tyler Jones, Domenic Mastro, Matthew Nastri, Jeremy Graham, James Pearson.
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