The arrival of wintry weather is not inconsequential this year. We bundle up, huddle down and wait out the coronavirus plague with grim longing for a better time, a better place and liberation from the constraints imposed upon us.
Adhering to common sense, we long for a bit of the bawdy, the sight of rebels against constraint, maybe a little lewdness or a hint of the carnal. We long for what a nearly locked down world lacks, and some reminders of unrestrained, shameless behaviour. Right? Well, it’s time for a return of Streaming Picks, and here are three escapes full of mutineers, people engaged in libidinous behaviour or aiming for carnal delights, and finding consequences.
Rita (Netflix, five seasons) is from Denmark and about as far from Nordic noir as you can get. Sunny, funny and sweetly outrageous, it’s about single-mother schoolteacher, Rita (Mille Dinesen), who is more rebellious and provocative than the teenagers who inhabit her classroom. To illustrate: In one episode, Rita meets a potential new headmaster who makes it clear he knows she’s had 11 warnings in one year, and was once suspended for having sex with a pupil’s father. Actually, in the very first episode of Season 1, it’s clear she’s having casual sex with her boss. She smokes, dresses always in jeans and a plaid shirt and casts a cool, amused eye on everything in her personal and working life.
She’s a solid mom to her three children, who envy her audacity even as she sometimes embarrasses them. What’s utterly engaging about the series (in Danish with English subtitles) is that it isn’t in the slightest bit salacious. It simply presents middle-class life in a very progressive Denmark as an arena in which a woman such as Rita can thrive. She’s a first-rate teacher. It’s the adults around her who are mediocrities. The series is a huge hit in Europe, where Rita is a feminist icon.
Love & Anarchy (one season, recently arrived on Netflix) presents a different kind of rebel. The eight-part Swedish series (with English subtitles) is about Sofie (Ida Engvoll), a digital-business consultant newly hired to shift a stuffy publishing house into the digital age. At home, Sofie has a gentle, caring husband and two kids. Thing is, from the get-go, it’s obvious Sofie has a secret porn habit. She often escapes to the bathroom to watch and enjoy porn on her phone. Meanwhile her husband, unknowing, wants her to concentrate on choosing new bathroom tiles.
At her new workplace, she encounters Max, a young IT guy (Bjorn Mosten). It is not meaningless that Max is drilling a hole in a wall when they meet. She banishes him and his noise. Then arriving after hours, Max catches Sofie doing her porn thing. Since she’s banished him, Max is tempted to try a little blackmail. He settles on a game of dare with Sofie, to which she responds with dangerous enthusiasm. As the dares escalate in danger to both of them, Sofie and Max seem blind to the inevitable outcome.
The series operates as a light romantic comedy but with a refreshingly frank and possibly very Swedish approach to sex. It is also as funny as it is ribald. The old-timers at the publishing house are bewildered by Instagram and sexting, and bedeviled by their own political correctness. This is funny satire with a good flavouring of lewd sauce.
Baby (three seasons on Netflix) is a different type of drama. Like the Spain-set Elite, this Italian series (with English subtitles) is set among older teenagers at a posh school for the privileged. But where Elite is often about lust and betrayal, Baby is about angst and guilt with a very grave Roman Catholic approach to the doings of teens and adults.
Loosely based on testimony in the real “baby squillo” teenage prostitution scandal in Italy a few years ago, it approaches the story not from an impulse toward titillation, but with an urge to understand how these young women became so alienated from their families and friends. It opens with Chiara (Benedetta Porcaroli), a top student and good athlete, who says, “If you’re 16 and live in the most beautiful neighbourhood in Rome, you’re lucky. But you need a secret life.” What Chiara wants in a secret life is sexual freedom and freedom from her stuffy family’s expectations.
She finds a kindred spirit in Ludovica (Alice Pagani), whose Louise Brooks look and loathing of her mother bespeaks doomed young woman. Eventually the pair are drawn into the world of exclusive nightclubs where a couple of pimps see them as a potential goldmine. But these young women are not easily manipulated and try to set their own terms.
Baby is soapy and often earnest. This world in Rome is seething with the secret amatory behaviour of adults who lie and cheat. “Love doesn’t exist,” one mother tells her daughter. If it doesn’t, then how are these young women supposed to feel, if they feel anything at all? Don’t come to Baby expecting exploitation of the teenage prostitution storyline. It seems soaked in lasciviousness but it’s really about lust in a place of despair, ennui and hypocrisy.
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