'39 Pounds' Weighed Down By Excess Sentimentality

Friday, January 13, 2006

In the 1970s, a San Antonio doctor told Ami Ankilewitz's mother that her son -- who suffers from a rare, usually fatal form of muscular dystrophy -- would not live past age 6. But in "39 Pounds of Love," Dani Menkin's documentary, Ankilewitz has reached the age of 34. We learn that the disease has left him immobile, save for the ability to make keystrokes using one finger of his left hand, enabling him to create 3-D animation. We see him recoiling from unrequited love and achieving his dream of traveling across the United States. (The American-born Israeli, who weighs 39 pounds, is also desperate to ride a Harley-Davidson.)

The film, which follows Ami and his entourage -- close friends and the crew -- across the states and toward the doctor who condemned him to six years, is so inherently poignant, a conservative approach would have been wise.

Unfortunately, Menkin laces it with mood-marshaling music and intersperses excerpts from Ami's animated film -- a lachrymose short about a bird (resembling Ami) being rejected by a beautiful bird, clearly meant to suggest Christina (the Romanian nurse he fell in love with and then fired for not returning his feelings). There's even a shot of an animated bird flying outside the plane window when Ami and company travel to the United States. Truly touching moments such as a surprise meeting between Ami and his estranged brother, Oscar, show us this movie didn't need any sentimental help.

-- Desson Thomson

39 Pounds of Love Unrated, 74 minutes Contains emotionally intense material and some profanity. In English and Hebrew with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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