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Nina Kiri in Sanja Zivkovic's Easy Land.Courtesy of TIFF

  • Easy Land
  • Written and directed by Sanja Zivkovic
  • Starring Mirjana Jokovic and Nina Kiri
  • Classification PG; 90 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

Midway through the new Canadian drama Easy Land, a character attempts to distill the essence of Samuel Beckett: “Beckett thinks there is nothing more funny than unhappiness.” If that’s the case, then the playwright would be in fits of hysterics watching the directorial debut of Sanja Zivkovic, so concerned is it with the soul-crushing weight of isolation: societal, cultural, professional, romantic and familial.

Focusing on a sliver of time in the fraught relationship between a Serbian refugee mother (Mirjana Jokovic) and her daughter (Nina Kiri) as they navigate life on the outskirts of Toronto, Zivkovic’s work is obsessed with misery. Her central characters fight constantly, neither of them prepared to reconcile with their traumatic pasts. And their new-ish home of Toronto, presented as cold and grey and slick in all the wrong ways, seems intent on thwarting even the smallest of victories.

Yet the film is not nearly as punishingly depressive as the material above might suggest, and it even frequently touches greatness – an especially impressive feat given that Zikovic’s first feature was developed with the tiniest of micro-budgets.

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Mirjana Jokovic plays a single mother who gets caught in her own emotional traps without realizing she’s capable of gnawing her way out.Courtesy of TIFF

The director captures a Toronto at its indifferent worst and possesses a wonderful eye for the small details of a home that has lost all love, or never had any to begin with. Zikovic’s talents extend to casting, too, with Jokovic representing a particular coup; the veteran character actor holds the lead spotlight here well, playing a single mother who gets caught in her own emotional traps without ever realizing that she’s also capable of gnawing her way out. The young Kiri, who is no stranger to on-screen anguish thanks to her work on television’s The Handmaid’s Tale, excels in scenes where other performers might so haplessly flail.

That Beckett line, by the way, proves that Zivkovic knows exactly how challenging her material might be – but offers no excuse to ignore it, either. Given that Easy Land is getting the quietest of digital openings this week after premiering at last fall’s TIFF – I only found out about its May 15 Apple TV release by pure accident, stumbling onto Zivkovic’s Instagram feed this past Tuesday – audiences passionate about supporting this country’s promising young artists should make like Beckett and embrace the unhappiness.

Easy Land is available digitally on Apple TV starting May 15

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