Everyone loves Antosha in the new film that opens in Midtown Aug. 30. Antosha is the affectionate nickname for Anton Yelchin, a young Russian-born Jewish actor, whose rise to prominence is chronicled in a new documentary, “Love, Antosha.”
Yelchin is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the young Pavel Chekov in several Star Trek films. He had a natural gift for acting and in his teens, he was already working steadily opposite some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
They are all here to sing his praises, Frank Langella, Zoe Saldana, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence and Willem Dafoe, among others. The praise is not just for his acting ability and devotion to his craft, but to the depth and breath of his character and his unquenchable thirst for learning.
Martin Landau, the distinguished Jewish American actor, who was 89 when he was interviewed for the documentary, called Yelchin an “old soul.”
But the dark secret that hangs over this otherwise sunny and deeply inspiring film is that Antosha is slowly dying. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a relatively rare disease of the lungs and pancreas, that sapped his energy and slowed his breathing.
Every day he took a dozen or more drugs to keep going and eventually endured hours of physical exercise and preparation before he could appear before the camera. Nonetheless, his intense curiosity about the world around him never faltered and the love he expressed only grew.
“The story of Anton is told from his point of view,” according to Garrett Price, who edited and directed the film. “These reflections were really just a gateway that helps us get inside his head. It had a profound effect on me. It just makes me want to be a better person, a better father, a better son and, truthfully, to live life to its fullest.”
No one is more aware of Anton’s love than his parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, who were once among the most famous ice skaters in the Soviet Union. Although they were national celebrities, because they were Jewish, they were barred by the Soviets from competing in the 1972 Winter Olympics.
Life for many Jews, especially during the last days of communism in Russia, was increasingly difficult, and in 1989 the couple sold everything they owned, leaving fame and fortune behind, and joined what had become a flood of Jewish immigrants to the United States. An estimated 800,000 Jews came to America as political refugees from the Soviet Union.
Antosha, the Yelchins’ only child, was only six months old when they arrived in Los Angeles to nurture the precocious child that we see in the many home movies that are such an important part of this film.
His parents savored every creative moment with their young son, including the exuberant outpourings of affection that he scrawled on notes to his mother and reflective notes he later wrote continuously in his journal as his health declined.
When Anton Yelchin died in 2016 at the age of 27, it was not from cystic fibrosis, but a freak automobile accident.
All the scrapbooks and home videos his parents collected of his performances and all the journals their son filled with his deep and probing reflections over his short lifetime serve not just as mementos of a career well spent, but in “Love, Antosha,” as a memorial to a life well lived.
“Love, Antosha” opens Aug. 30 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.