Eline Powell‘s first starring role was in ANITA B., a film set in Eastern Europe just after the end of World War II, and based on the semi-autobiographical novel “Quanta stella c’è nel cielo” (How Many Stars In The Sky) by Auschwitz survivor Edith Bruck. ANITA B. deals with a part of history that has seems to have been largely neglected (at least in films), the repatriation of concentration camp survivors. In the opening scene we see Anita being handed into the custody of her uncle’s brother Eli on a snowy day in May.
Eli takes Anita home to his brother’s house in the village of Zvikov, but whenever she tries to talk about what happened to her, she is told (especially by her Aunt Monika) to forget all that and move on, so she spends a lot of time talking to her nephew, who is too young to understand a word she says.
The film begins with a quote from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Gimple the Fool“: “Whatever doesn’t really happen is dreamed at night. It happens to one if it doesn’t happen to another, tomorrow if not today, or a century hence if not next year.”
It is a surprisingly hopeful story, told in incomplete fragments, as though the memory of the person telling it has been clouded by the passage of time. Anita’s encounters with a musical neighbor, her brief time in a local jail, her unfortunate relationship with Eli, the unexpectedly kind doctor in Budapest — all these things are presented briefly, without elaboration.
Eli locks Anita in her Budapest hotel room after her visit to the doctor. She pauses to give her situation some thought, then pulls the sheets from the bed. She does not make the bedsheets into a rope (as one might expect her to) and use them to descend from the balcony. Instead, she takes the mattress from the bed and tips it over the balcony rail to serve as a cushion, and leaps. It’s not much of a mattress and it’s a good thing she’s only on the second floor.
She finds the Jewish Refugee Centre which is run by a woman named Sarah (Jane Alexander), and waits there, protected from Eli, for the opportunity to leave for Palestine. “I want to write,” she tells Sarah. “Poetry, novels, fairytales. I want to invent a world that doesn’t exist.”. And when Sarah asks “Isn’t this one enough?”, she replies: “Mine will be more beautiful.”
Before ANITA B., Powell had small roles in two films, both of which were released in 2012. The first was in QUARTET, a quiet comedy set in a home for retired musicians. Reggie (Tom Courtenay) is disconcerted by the discovery that his ex-wife Jean (with whom he is still in love) is moving in, just in time for the annual benefit concert on Verdi’s birthday. Powell’s character Angelique gives Cedric (Michael Gambon) a manicure, is a server in the dining hall, and has an assignation in the tall grass with co-worker Simon (Luke Newberry). Maggie Smith got a Golden Globe nomination for her role in this, but Billy Connolly turned in a remarkable performance as Wilf, a role originally written for Albert Finney. (When Finney turned down the role due to ill health, Peter O’Toole was cast, but he also left the production because of health concerns.) QUARTET is the first film directed by Dustin Hoffman, and was based on the 1999 stage play by Ronald Harwood. Many of the supporting cast are retired musicians. YouTube has a trailer.
The second minor role was as Anna in PRIVATE PEACEFUL, the story of two brothers from Devon whose lives are horribly disrupted by World War I. When Tommo was very young, he fell in love with Molly (Alexandra Roach) but soon discovered that she was already secretly involved with his brother Charlie (Jack O’Connell). Tommo was devastated, but that becomes relatively unimportant when the two brothers are forced to go to Belgium to fight in the war. Anna is a barmaid in Flanders with whom Tommo (George MacKay), the younger Peaceful brother, has a brief flirtation. (She is killed by a German bomb shortly thereafter.) PRIVATE PEACEFUL is based on the 2003 novel by Michael Morpurgo.
** Eline Powell was born in Leuven, the fourth largest city in Flanders.
Before all that, there was Eline Powell’s very first film appearance in the short comedy FOR ELSIE, which won a Student Academy Award in 2012. Powell plays Mila, daughter of Kilov (Olegar Fedoro), who is a Russian mobster. Kilov offers a struggling piano teacher (Glenn, played by Blake Ritson) £10,000 if he can teach Mila to play Beethoven’s Für Elise in one day. The entire twenty-two minute film can be streamed on Vimeo.