Love and marriage in “Monica and David”

Love and marriage in “Monica and David”

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The two central characters in Alexandra Codina’s film, “Monica & David,” bring more than the ordinary number of obstacles to a successful marriage, but lack of love is certainly not one of them. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society presents this documentary about a Down Syndrome couple on Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.

Accompanying “Monica & David” is an animated short, “Tying Your Own Shoes,” by Montreal-based filmmaker Shira Avni. Ms. Avni worked with four adult Down syndrome artists who created animated self-portraits for this award-winning film funded by the National Film Board of Canada.

A presentation by Vineyard Independence Partnership (VIP) will follow the screenings. VIP promotes social activities on-Island for the disabled, supports their independent living, and advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The subjects of “Monica & David,” which won the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Documentary, were both born with an extra chromosome. It is the genetic defect that leads to Down Syndrome and causes a number of physical disabilities, usually with some degree of mental retardation. The couple met at a life skills program in Miami, Fla.

Ms. Codina, who is Monica’s cousin, opens her film with Monica and David talking to each other on the phone. Their wedding will happen in a few days. The film does not sentimentalize the situation, choosing instead simply to share with the viewer a segment of the couple’s lives.

Central to Monica’s and David’s world is the support they receive from their parents. Monica’s father left the family soon after she was born, and her mother, Maria, raised Monica on her own. Like Maria, David’s mother raised her Down syndrome child as a single parent.

Retiring after building a successful career with a cruise line, Maria has remarried. She and her second husband Bob are able to give their daughter, whom Bob eventually adopts, a storybook wedding. The camera observes unobtrusively as Monica tries on her wedding gown, the wedding rehearsal proceeds, the couple marries and enjoys a honeymoon in Venice Beach, Calif., with Maria and Bob in tow.

Perhaps in part because of the familial connection, Ms. Codina is able to capture Monica and David’s interactions without much self-consciousness or awkwardness. There are moments of friction and upset as well as happiness, but the recurrent motif, obviously an important one for Monica and David, is kisses and hugs.

Monica, who seems to be the worrier, writes a letter to her birth father, telling him, “You never call me on my birthday…You broke my heart.”

Protective and supportive of his wife, David tells the camera he doesn’t have a handicap, but he does have Down syndrome. “Different is tough,” he says.

Having a routine matters a great deal, and Maria checks to be sure tasks like putting away the household trashcan are completed properly.

Life gets more complicated when Bob retires and he and Maria move to Hollywood Beach, Fla., with Monica and David. The routines that keep the newlyweds’ lives in balance get disrupted.

On their first anniversary, the two celebrate in a restaurant with dinner, champagne, and a cake.

The gist of this slice-of-life story is that with the proper support, Monica and David can function almost as well as any other couple. That is a far cry from the days when babies born with Down’s lived at most until 25, without education or an accepted place in the community.

“Monica & David,” Saturday, November 20, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

Brooks Robards, a frequent contributor to The Times, divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton.

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