The ghosts of the past come back to haunt us in a different way during this period when we’re trying to survive. The prepandemic past seems remote, and then memory and loss tussle with each other and our senses are made raw, in search of consolation. Here are three notable, and very different, stories about love, loss, childhood, regret and offering easement.
Anton (streams Amazon Prime Video) wasn’t made for TV, but ended up streaming there. Essentially an art-house gem, it was the final film directed by the Georgian director Zaza Urushadze (nominated for an Academy Award for his 2014 film Tangerines) and it is as gorgeous, sensitive and plaintive as you’d expect.
In synopsis, it is about enduring friendship through decades both grim and tense. It’s set mainly in 1919, when the Bolshevik revolutionary government is attempting to control and to clear out non-loyalists from an area of Ukraine populated mostly by German families. It’s a beautiful place where Christians and Jews live in the harmony that abides when people simply farm and hope for a more prosperous lives for their children. Little Anton (Nikita Shlanchak) and his best friend Yakiv (Mykyta Dziad), the son of a neighbouring Jewish family, are engaged in childish things. But around them there is fear and rage. The Bolshevik military, led by terrorizing female officer Dora (Tetiana Grachik), want the Germans out and are shooting men to make their point.
The bond between Anton and Yakiv is beautifully brought to life, and their innocence is wonderfully contrasted, without sentimentalization, with the ancient hatreds and contemporary cruelties that are unfolding before their eyes. Grown-ups control everything, including the fate of the two boys, and yet what roots the drama is the unshakable friendship forged in a terrifying circumstance we can barely comprehend today.
There are rumbling plotlines about rebellion against the Bolsheviks, led by Father Fridrikh (Sebastyan Anton), the town priest. And Anton’s mother Christina (Natalia Ryumina) has her own painful journey. But this exquisitely-made production (in German and Russian with English subtitles) is about enduring attachment through polarizing times. By the way, Anton is based on Saskatchewan writer Dale Eisler’s book Anton: A Young Boy, His Friend and the Russian Revolution, which is based on the author’s own family’s history, one he was obliged to piece together from fragments. Highly recommended, a work with both sweetness and emotional force.
Generation 56K (Netflix) is a very different story, but with a curiously similar tone about the gap between youthful innocence and adult awareness. The series takes two episodes to find its feet, but the tone is lovely, about two adults seeing their 12-year-old selves in the context of now. The eight-part drama/comedy series from Italy (with English subtitles), begins with Daniel (Angelo Spagnoletti) attempting to use dating apps to find a relationship. It’s not going well, and when he helps his parents move house, he discovers a diary he kept when he was 12 years old. At once amused and mortified his mind, and the series, takes the viewer back to 1998. There, young Daniel (Alfredo Cerrone) is with his pals, preinternet, scheming to buy a PlayStation. Daniel has a crush on a local girl, Ines, but is making all the wrong, boyish, moves.
Back in the present, Daniel idly arranges another date using an app, and it goes so well that he’s enchanted. But, there’s a hitch: The woman he meets isn’t who he thought she was. It is, in fact, an old connection, but not what the viewer expects.
Katla (Netflix) is not the usual back-from-the-dead series. Gloomy and atmospheric – it’s from Iceland, drenched in melancholy – it eventually turns toward the paranormal, but is mainly concerned with loss and apprehension about what nature is doing to humanity. The setting is Vik, where nearby volcano Katla has been erupting for a year. Almost everyone has fled, except for a few locals. Everything is covered in ash and soot. Still living there is Grima (Gudrun Eyfjord), grimly hanging on, mourning her sister. One particularly crepuscular day, a woman emerges from the mountain of ash and soot, naked and disoriented.
It seems she is the spitting image of a young woman who worked nearby 20 years before. Which would be mystery enough, but that woman never died or disappeared and is alive and well in Sweden. In what is a slow-moving, Stygian and enigmatic eight-part series (Icelandic with English subtitles) there’s a beguiling mystery about heartbreak.
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