EMERG­ING FROM THE RAIN

Net­flix’s Scandi noir goes apoc­a­lyp­tic with a new Dan­ish sci-fi of­fer­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Rain, Vida,

There’s just no stop­ping Net­flix and its om­niv­o­rous ap­petite for new prod­uct. It has just re­leased the first sea­son of Scan­di­na­vian thriller The Rain, from Dan­ish pro­duc­tion com­pany Miso Film, which has given us great binge­able shows in­clud­ing Those Who Kill, Dicte, 1864, Ac­quit­ted and Mo­dus. The Rain is cre­ated by Jan­nik Tai Mosholt, one of the cocre­ators of the pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal se­ries Bor­gen and also the new se­ries’ showrun­ner, and is Net­flix’s first orig­i­nal Scan­di­na­vian drama.

Six years af­ter a bru­tal virus has wiped out most of the peo­ple in Scan­di­navia, young si­b­lings Ellen An­der­son (played by Iben Hje­jle) and Eras­mus (Lu­cas Lyn­g­gaard Ton­nesen) go search­ing for safety. They have spent their time in an iso­lated bunker, which is mys­te­ri­ously con­nected to their fa­ther and a com­pany called Apol­lon, af­ter rain fell car­ry­ing a deadly poi­son.

It’s fa­mil­iar dra­matic ter­ri­tory but has a par­tic­u­larly Dan­ish slant on what hap­pens to us when our in­sti­tu­tions col­lapse and our lives have no se­cu­rity. It’s cer­tainly an en­gag­ing por­trayal of hu­man be­hav­iour in dire sit­u­a­tions, with the lead char­ac­ters car­ry­ing the cul­tural and so­cial norms cre­ated by the law be­fore the apoca­lypse. And of course it hap­pens in a coun­try that leg­is­lates for hap­pi­ness, where this sort of thing is not meant to hap­pen, and no one is pre­pared for it.

Episode one is di­rected by Ken­neth Kainz (who also di­rected Dicte) with the cin­e­matic fa­cil­ity and know­ing feel the Danes possess for the na­ture of genre, es­pe­cially the para­noia and un­cer­tainty we now ex­pect of so-called Scandi noir. He also han­dles sev­eral ac­tion scenes with flair, in­clud­ing a huge free­way pile-up that pre­cedes the fam­ily’s ar­rival at the shel­ter.

The first claus­tro­pho­bic episode cen­tres on the si­b­lings’ dif­fi­cul­ties sur­viv­ing in the bunker: their fa­ther has dis­ap­peared and their mother dies from ex­po­sure to the deadly rain while res­cu­ing Ellen, af­ter a man tries to crash open the bunker door. It cov­ers their six years liv­ing in the bunker, grad­u­ally ex­tin­guish­ing all the food left by Apol­lon.

The si­b­lings, who rather con­ge­nially age to­gether, com­fort­ing and sup­port­ing each other with­out marked ten­sion, are as be­wil­dered as we are by what is hap­pen­ing out­side. If you’re go­ing to start a show about the end of the world with the end al­ready well un­der way, it helps to have he­roes as con­fused about the state of things as the viewer. As is the case with most sur­vival dra­mas, as view­ers we are con­stantly chal­lenged to ask what we would or would not do, and what we could and could not live with.

The si­b­lings de­ter­mine that there is a net­work of sim­i­lar bunkers through­out Den­mark and make con­tact with one, but to no avail.

Kainz, a direc­tor with a nice feel for telling cam­era an­gles, while fo­cus­ing on the dilemma of the si­b­lings, clin­i­cally sets up the di­men­sions of the catas­tro­phe and the dystopian sur­vival con­text of the show. And, like all good drama, The Rain leaves us with many ques­tions.

Where did their fa­ther go af­ter leav­ing? Why did he never make con­tact and could he still be still alive? What is Apol­lon? Does Eras­mus, set up as the key to much of what is hap­pen­ing, have some kind of im­mu­nity? How does Ellen, trusted by her fa­ther to care for her brother, con­tinue to do it as he grows older?

And as their food runs out, how will they con­front the out­side world when forced from the bunker? Just what is the virus and how did it get there? Has it stopped falling? And, fi­nally, just what an­swers lie in the ar­rival of a masked, heav­ily armed gang at their door?

Mosholt says: “I’m in­ter­ested in find­ing out what we hu­mans will do if the day should come when civil­i­sa­tion as we know it van­ishes. And I want to see it through the eyes of youth. Those who are too young to un­der­stand it all when ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one dis­ap­pears around them, and who then have to find out who they are and what they will be­come.” Lo­cal streamer Stan has also been busy re­leas­ing new shows. Vida, in­spired by a short story by Richard Vil­le­gas Jr, is one of its lat­est.

Vida is one of those po­ten­tially dra­matic break­through se­ries that come along rather fre­quently in these days of peak TV, where di­ver­sity is in­creas­ingly the name of the game for dis­cern­ing view­ers.

It’s a provoca­tive show fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters rarely seen in main­stream TV, and de­signed to grab at­ten­tion quickly and vis­cer­ally.

Vida (trans­lated, it means “life”), cre­ated by per­sis­tent and res­o­lute Mex­i­can-born play­wright turned TV writer turned ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Tanya Sara­cho, is a half-hour episode drama-com­edy cen­tred on two Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can sis­ters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Bar­rera). They re­turn to their old neigh­bour­hood in East Los Angeles and are forced to con­front their mother’s seem­ingly shock­ing past af­ter she collapses on her bath­room floor and dies.

The sis­ters are ex­ces­sively dis­af­fected, their re­la­tion­ship char­ac­terised by what the younger, Lyn, calls “our reg­u­larly sched­uled pro­gram­ming of not talk­ing”, and both long alien­ated from their mother, who had been run­ning a small neigh­bour­hood bar called La Cinta.

Things be­come more com­pli­cated and emo­tional when they meet their mother’s “room­mate”, Eddy (Karen Ser An­zoategui), and are forced to con­front their mother’s se­cret, which, while we get the point rather quickly — Eddy’s sad­ness and grief, and her pro­pri­eto­rial sense of own­er­ship, are ob­vi­ously more than that of a mere boarder — does take them by sur­prise. Emma’s re­ac­tion is hardly wel­com­ing, with her erupt­ing with pro­fane ho­mo­pho­bia.

To make mat­ters worse, Eddy has al­ready made ar­range­ments for the fu­neral based on the mother’s wishes, which were laid down in en­tries in her iPad, to the tart cha­grin of Emma, now a self-made cor­po­rate gal.

Lyn, who has a rich boyfriend in San Fran­cisco and a line of self-de­vel­oped, Aztecin­spired lo­tions, af­ter the fail­ure of a foundob­ject ac­ces­sories busi­ness, is sim­ply dis­mayed.

“So not men­tally pre­pared to be deal­ing with adult shit like wills,” she tells her sterner sis­ter. Their mother also leaves them the “piece-of­shit bar”, as Emma so pleas­antly de­scribes it, and the three storeys of rooms above it that house long-term un­doc­u­mented Mex­i­cans.

They must split the prop­erty three ways. One wants to sell, the other is con­flicted, con­cerned for the ten­ants. “What kind of Mex­i­can would I be if I don’t care,” Emma wails.

The emo­tional is­sues play out against the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal back­ground of what’s known in LA as “gen­tefi­ca­tion”, a term de­rived from the Span­ish word for peo­ple used to de­scribe changes brought to com­mu­ni­ties when up­wardly mo­bile Lati­nos move back to their old neigh­bour­hoods and dis­place less wealthy res­i­dents. “When you open up that can of worms of us gen­tri­fy­ing our own, there’s a lot of story there,” Sara­cho says.

It’s a Latino vari­a­tion on the idea of the ur­ban re­newal of lower-class neigh­bour­hoods given a kind of bo­hemian flair af­ter artists have moved in look­ing for cheap places to rent, at­tract­ing yup­pies who want to live in such an at­mos­phere yet, af­ter driv­ing out lo­cal mi­nori­ties, chang­ing its so­cial char­ac­ter.

The first episode, di­rected with a kind of flu­ent, al­most in­sou­ciant cin­e­matic flu­id­ity by Alonso Ruiz­pala­cios, opens with a zeal­ous man­i­festo di­rected against the city coun­cil from another cen­tral char­ac­ter, the pierc­ingly pro­fane vlog­ger Marisol (Chelsea Ren­don), who goes around the precinct pho­tograph­ing and em­bar­rass­ing cul­tural in­ter­lop­ers.

“If those f..kers think we are go­ing to take this oc­cu­pa­tion, this coloni­sa­tion, ly­ing down they’re got another thing com­ing,” she fiercely in­tones into her iPad. “If you try to come in here and re­place places and dis­place peo­ple, good work­ing-class peo­ple too, you bet­ter pre­pare your­selves, be­cause you will see, we will rise up.”

The ac­tors are rel­a­tively un­known, con­vers­ing in Span­ish, English and Span­glish, but work with con­vic­tion and pas­sion, em­pow­ered to be telling sto­ries from their own cul­ture, the two young leads stars in the mak­ing. They also hap­pen to be ex­traor­di­nar­ily at­trac­tive, which won’t hurt the se­ries’ chances of suc­cess ei­ther.

The po­lit­i­cal res­o­nance is timely too, the se­ries com­ing as any­one hail­ing from south of the bor­der hardly feels safe in Trump’s Amer­ica.

SIX YEARS AF­TER A VIRUS HAS WIPED OUT SCAN­DI­NAVIA, YOUNG SI­B­LINGS ELLEN AND ERAS­MUS GO SEARCH­ING FOR SAFETY

stream­ing on Net­flix. stream­ing on Stan.

Maria-Elena Laas, left, and Melissa Bar­rera in Vida; Lu­cas Lyn­g­gaard Ton­nesen, above, and Iben Hje­jle in The Rain

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