Showrunner: Xan Aranda
Streaming On: Netflix
"The first time I saw her, I loved her," says an elderly man with a beaming smile, sitting next to his wife, as she blushes. It's one of many heart-melting moments in Netflix's latest docu-series My Love: Six Stories Of True Love.
As the title suggests, the show documents a year in the lives of six elderly couples in six different countries in an attempt to get to the heart of long-lasting love. Over six deeply rewarding episodes, each over an hour long, it provides a snapshot of their lives together and sets out to answer the question – what does love look like after a lifetime of being together? But, as with the best love stories, it's about a lot more than just love. It's a portrait of mortality, ageing, hardship, connection and companionship in different parts of the world.
The series is inspired by director Jin Moyoung's acclaimed 2013 Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River which followed a couple during their final year of their 76-year marriage. The strength of My Love the series, from showrunner Xan Aranda, lies in how distinct each of these stories are, but also how strikingly similar. These are different lives, different marriages, different challenges, circumstances and cultures and yet they all share the same essence – a mutual partnership between two people who really and truly care about each other.
Each of the six couples has been carefully chosen to fit a specific criteria. All have been together for a lifetime (ranging from 40 to 60 years). All are working-class couples with often physically intensive jobs, such as farming and fishing. All have had difficult lives in one way or another dealing with medical hardships or loss of some kind. And all have come through it together, side by side.
In the first episode, set in the small town of Williston, Vermont in the US, we meet David and Ginger as they approach their 60th wedding anniversary. Both have lived in the area their entire lives. David has spent all of his 85 years on the farm, which has been in his family for generations. The second episode, set in Spain, follows shepherds Nati and Augusto who have similarly been together 60 years. After he fails his driver's test as a result of his declining eyesight, Augusto struggles to come to terms with being a burden on his wife. There's something about watching real stories with real people and real words that transcends movie love. It's a thought that struck me as Augusto reminisces, "When morning comes and you reach out, and there's no one beside you…that's very hard. You need your wife. When you're in bed and she's by your side, and you reach out and look at the thing you need most and say 'What a beauty. May God take care of her for years to come'."
There's something about watching real stories with real people and real words that transcends movie love. It's a thought that struck me as Augusto reminisces, "When morning comes and you reach out, and there's no one beside you…that's very hard. You need your wife. When you're in bed and she's by your side, and you reach out and look at the thing you need most and say 'What a beauty. May God take care of her for years to come'."
My Love isn't always an easy watch. The slow pacing makes it challenging and at times tiring to get through. Like the nature of the love stories it showcases, it's not going for overly 'exciting', manipulative or sentimental storytelling. Much of the episodes don't have much direction. It's largely just footage of the couple going about their lives, existing together through the ups and downs. It's an approach which asks us to embrace the everyday-ness of these stories and find the magic in the mundane.
The fifth episode is set in Brazil and follows same-sex couple Jurema and Nicinha, who've been together forty years, living with their bustling family of children and grandchildren. Aside from exploring their lives, theirs is a story that asks us if, after a point, love is merely the habit of being used to someone's presence. "At some point I thought of life without her. But by now we've had many reasons to live apart. But we can't. She can't live without me and I can't live without her," Nicinha says.
The sixth and final episode is based in India, in rural Maharashtra. Directed by Katiyabaaz filmmakers Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, it follows farmers Satyabhama and Satva – together 42 years. The pair, who had an arranged marriage, are deeply in love. Their story highlights the equal partnership they share in supporting their family, despite the many hardships of life as a farmer.
But my personal favourite is the third episode set in Japan. Partly because it has the most extraordinary story, with all the highs and lows of any great drama. Kinuko and Haruhei have been married 49 years. Haruhei has had a difficult life. He was born with Hansen's disease (leprosy) at a time there was severe social stigma against it, as there still is. He was kicked out of school and deprived of basic human rights. As a result, his father tried to kill him out of shame when he was a young boy. He ran away only to be imprisoned in a government hospital for 15 years. And that is where he met her. Kinuko worked there as a nurse, and the two fell in love. Or, as he puts it: "The government forced me into an institution and would let me out for 15 years. Until one day, a goddess appeared and liberated me…She is my saviour. Because of her I decided to venture back into the world". Now Kinuko finds herself with health complications, and Haruhei must be by her side through it all.
My Love is in many ways a counter piece to Amazon Prime Video's wonderful fiction anthology series Modern Love. Like that, these are also a series of mini movies about relationships. But, while in that show the focus is on chance encounters, airport chases and grand gestures, here it's about the little things. It's the small glances and the silences. It's going to the beach, taking a walk together, buying a massage chair together and doing laundry together. It's the presence of a person that sticks it out with you till the end of your world, come what may. If that isn't love I don't know what is.