By Yun-hua Chen.
Paying tribute to the late actor Anton Yelchin’s life, this biographical documentary extends far beyond his acting career. As Garret Price’s directorial debut premiered at the Sundance three years after the freak car accident in 2016 which took Yelchin’s life at the age of 27, the film traces Yelchin’s life from the cradle to the grave. It is a much-anticipated film which reveals both his well-known life events as a celebrity and previously undiscovered facets as a person, all while doing justice to his artistic talent and passion for life.
The production team’s true affection towards Anton Yelchin is the glue that holds the entire film together; the producer Drake Doremus was Anton Yelchin’s director in Like Crazy (2011) and a good friend since then. He then brought Garret Price, the editor of Doremus’ upcoming film Endings, Beginnings (2019), into the project. The voice-over comes from Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin’s co-star in Dying of the Light (2014), whose calm yet warm-hearted voice reads Yelchin’s diaries and letters out loud and serves as the narrative arc; Yelchin’s other colleagues and friends, including Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pine, Kristen Stewart, William Dafoe, John Cho and J.J. Abrams, all contributed their bits and pieces of memories shared with this precocious actor. Often being the youngest one on set, Yelchin seemed to possess a magic power which drew people to him and inspired young and old alike. Martin Landau, for example, with whom Yelchin formed a profound friendship despite age difference, talked about how they used to converse like contemporaries.
The most touching interviews were conducted with Yelchin’s parents Irina and Viktor, former pair figure skaters in the Soviet Union who took refuge in the US right after Yelchin’s birth. As a matter of fact, the film’s title “Love, Antosha” refers to the way Anton Yelchin used to sign cards and letters to his parents since a very young age – usually accompanied by a lot of hand-drawn heart shapes in red. The mutual attachment and emotional dependence between parents and son left a strong imprint on Yelchin and permeated the air throughout the film; it is in every friend’s remarks and every letter that Yelchin wrote. In family footage shot with Viktor’s DV, Yelchin was a dynamic, bold and cheery kid who was always ready to experiment and lovingly encouraged by his parents; camera was a pair of eyes with which Irina and Viktor recorded their love and which later became Yelchin’s medium to express himself.
Through the lens of Price this time, Love, Antosha offers a glimpse into Yelchin’s artistic world as an all-around artist. He is mature and well-read beyond his years, “an old soul” as many of his friends said, but also childlike and fun seeking, constantly oscillating between a philosopher and a curious kid. His experimentation on different art forms was his way to understand the world and explore his premature inner self. Since childhood he loved performing in front of the camera; his copies of film scripts are cramped with his writings; his photography works are often queer and erotic; he learned how to play guitar in an autodidactic manner and played in a band with childhood friends. Always radiating never-ending creative energy, he was planning his directorial debut called “Travis” before the accident.
Meanwhile, Love, Antosha does not shy away from depicting Yelchin’s weaknesses. During his moments of confusion and doubt in pursuit of an even better career in Hollywood, Yelchin at times indulged himself in promiscuous sex and drugs. As he concealed his deadly chronic illness cystic fibrosis from the world, he struggled to breathe steadily throughout the day and come to terms with the fact that his time on earth was more limited than other people. Maybe it was a sense of urgency that prompted him to stay exceptionally productive; since his first screen appearance in the TV series ER (2000) till his death in 2016, he performed in 69 TV or film productions.
Well-paced and gracefully balanced, Love, Antosha is a tender and bitter-sweet portrait of a natural born actor and talented artist. Cinema being Yelchin’s way to communicate with the world, it is also in cinema that he would stay alive.
Yun-hua Chen is an independent film scholar who contributes regularly to Film International, Exberliner, the website of Goethe Institut, as well as other academic journals. Her monograph on mosaic space and mosaic auteurs is funded by Geschwister Boehringer Ingelheim Stiftung für Geisteswissenschaften and was published by Neofelis Verlag in 2016.