John Seven | Viewers Discretion: Holiday series still worth watching
Holiday Secrets (Netflix)
I guess "the holidays" officially ended, but I think there is still time to slip in this three-part German series that clocks in with a reasonable movie running time of not even two hours. You can easily view it in one evening.
Told by crisscrossing dramatic events from several different years over the long life of a family, "Holiday Secrets" is focused on one Christmas in particular, happening "now," in which a family descends upon its oceanfront home in order to contend with their differences and settle their dysfunctions together over the holidays. Obviously that's not the No. 1 intention — like any modern family, the goal is to smile through it and glide past the heavy stuff, but this family of women isn't being allowed to do that.
At the center of the conflict is Sonja (Christiane Paul), who has returned to attempt to reconcile with her daughters Vivi (Svenja Jung) and Lara (Leonie Benesch), and find some peace with her mother Eva (Corinna Harfouch). Sonja has spent her life following her passions and that's led to some troublesome political and romantic entanglements that have caused friction and resulted in some terrible mothering, as well as substance abuse that she's working to move past.
If each woman in the family has their own secret — including great grandmother, Eva's mother, Alma (Barbara Nusse), who is featured in the earliest flashbacks — then that's a lot of revelations colliding with each other, and a lot of damaged souls trapped between them, which makes for some enjoyable drama amidst the family squabbling. And the revelations are worth the time invested, including one double whammy that is steeped in more recent German political crime history.
The one caveat here is that you need to take great care in following the characters across the decades — with different actresses playing them at different ages, a scorecard isn't the worst idea.
Rabbit A La Berlin (OvidTV)
At first, I thought this was a fake documentary since its story is so fanciful and works so perfectly as a symbolic fable of totalitarianism, but in fact, the scenario it presents, that rabbits lived in the border strip at the Berlin Wall and their experience in that guarded zone in some ways mirror that of the humans living in the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, is true.
This 2010 film by Bartosz Konopka was nominated for an Oscar and its easy to see what drew the Academy to placing it on the list for best documentary short. The story of rabbits who infest the area to get at vegetable patches and then, having established a home, watch in horror as their territory is dug up and construction on the wall begins has inescapable parallels to "Watership Down," but this is real life, for real.
The film's suggestive narration offers some levity at the situation, but also makes sure the viewer doesn't miss the natural allegory here. Blocked off from the rest of the world, the border strip became a free-for-all area for the rabbits since there were no predators trapped in there with them. At the same time, they were constantly under the purview of the guards, and so they had the illusion of freedom without a real sense of the trade-off for their safety. And, eventually, when the population becomes too unwieldy, the source of their safety will turn on them. And when the wall comes tumbling down, life gets a lot more complicated for the rabbits.
Told through footage of the rabbits at the wall and interviews with a variety of commentators, including former guards, "Rabbit A La Berlin" is the perfect dark children's book come to life.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me
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