Scattered and uneven, Anton’s Right Here charts four years in the life of Anton, a young Russian boy suffering from severe autism who, contrary to the film’s title, seems to exist in an internal world far, far away. Anton’s life is upended after his mother is diagnosed with fatal cancer and he meets filmmaker Lyubov Arkus, in whom he finds a vital supporter and caregiver, and Arkus’s chronological documentary details Anton’s day-to-day existence with mother Rita and, later, his time shuttling between rural camps for similarly disadvantaged youth and understaffed psychiatric hospitals where overuse of drugs and general lack of attention are a constant problem.
Arkus narrates Anton’s plight with constant comments about the effect he has on her own life, and the surprising revelation that she’s become part of the story she’s documenting, a fact that’s true but given far greater emphasis by Arkus than it probably deserves. For all of the director’s efforts to get Anton into facilities, and to make sure he’s cared for and loved, her own role remains throughout far more peripheral than she claims, in so far as Anton’s Right Here is ultimately less about the parallels between filmmaker and subject than about Anton himself, a fractured boy coming to terms with his increasing consciousness about his circumstances.
Arkus’s overeager desire to place her own plight front and center can be distracting (a brief interlude about her own father’s early, untimely death feels like a strained stab at paralleling her past with Anton’s present), and a scene in which Rita drinks and sings with friends is similarly touching but superfluous to the main material at hand. That would be Anton himself, a haunted-looking kid first introduced simply moaning out loud, and who’s forced to confront the loss of loved ones (his mother, a camp mentor named David) while struggling to fight his antisocial and self-destructive urges and regain at least a glimmer of the writing skills and behavioral control he once possessed.
When focused most squarely on Anton’s alternately joyful and distant boyish countenance, Anton’s Right Here can be wrenching, aided by deft digital cinematography and sharp editing that repeatedly emphasize shared glances and far-off gazes that touchingly capture Anton’s tormented condition. Given somewhat redundant footage that unnecessarily protracts its running time, the film proves a bit too rambling. Still, in its hopeful coda, it remains a stirring portrait of the nonfiction camera as a tool for healing and enlightenment, and of humanity’s dogged desire to—per a paper Anton once wrote—“endure.”