First of all, I’ll preface this by saying that I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of this film with English subtitles, so I hope my interpretations are valid. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, this film, directed by Hispano Durón, is the story of a teenage girl, Anita Fernandez, with an apparently idyllic life, told primarily through the recollections of her younger brother Anibal. Anita is celebrated for her intelligence and beauty, “until one day,” her brother remembers, “she gave it up to hunt insects.”
We first glimpse Anita’s anxieties through her strained relationship with her short-fused and overbearing father. He wants her to be more like the “Turks,” a Honduran term for Palestinian immigrants and their descendants, stereotyped as wealthy businesspeople and social climbers. (See this article for more info.) Anita’s brother tells us that “Papa had contracted many debts. He wanted to have more than he could. From time to time it made us remember who we really were.” When Anita plans her quinceañera, her father is concerned about making a good impression on her friends. In order to improve the family’s financial situation, he has an affair with a Palestinian credit manager.
During the party, Anita’s father sees some “Turks,” including Anita’s crush Fernando, hanging out at a gas station, apparently up to no good. Anibal recalls that “Papa was furious that day,” because Fernando and his friends had not come to Anita’s party. Her father screams at Anita in front of her friends, cursing her for not associating with the “Turks.” Anibal says: “And so it was then that Anita changed, never again to be the same.”
A World of Her Own
After her father’s blowout, Anita becomes obsessed with insects, especially moths and butterflies. In religion class, she begins reading from Deuteronomy 28, her recitation growing louder, faster, and more fervent. As she concludes, a large moth appears in the room, causing a commotion. Anita reaches out nonchalantly and catches it in her hand, to the amazement of her classmates and teacher. When Anita witnesses her father’s infidelity, she retreats further inward. She begins dissociating, acting like an insect at dinner, shutting out the world. To Anita’s horror, her father burns her insect collection, rendering her almost catatonic. “Anita,” her brother laments, “she was no longer with us.”
Anita’s parents seek medical advice, prompting her to run away from home. While hunting for insects, she meets a drug dealer who gives her an insect larva as a gift and asks her “Are you crazy?” He tells her there are many more insects at his place and takes her there. While she remains catatonic, he undresses her. He admires her body as he washes her feet and bathes her. She remains more or less catatonic, even as he rapes her.
Back at home, Anita’s family comes to grips with her absence: “At first it seemed that there was nothing more important than finding the culprit. Guilt lingered like a ghost prowling around the house. Nobody wanted to be touched by it. We hid behind grief or behind rage.” Over time, “The ghosts of guilt had disappeared. We only had to deal with shame.” Where did the shame come from? Their failures toward Anita? Their inability to keep up appearances as a happy family? Did Anita’s disappearance serve as yet another reminder of who they really were?
Like Ruba in Third Person Singular Number, Anita is a bright girl whose promising future is dashed by the constraints placed upon her by a demanding patriarchal figure, as well as society at large. Anita and Ruba both find solace within worlds of their own creation, Anita’s populated by insects, Ruba’s by younger versions of herself. Anita, the Insect Hunter is difficult to watch at times; despite its unique and engaging premise, the unending sequence of tragedies the film’s protagonist faces can be difficult to stomach.
Travellers and Magicians (Bhutan, 2003)