Czech it out

Pub date November 25, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW An attractive 30-something woman with a face hardened by rough times — most recently the 2002 Prague flood pretty much ruining her Prague home — Marcela (Anna Geislerova) is raising two children under precarious circumstances. Marriage to Jarda (Roman Luknar) is discordant, despite their volcanic sex, in large part because she objects to his paying the bills by running a chop shop. She’s already left the with the kids — albeit due to her son’s severe allergy to their digs’ post-flood moldiness — when Jarda steals the wrong guy’s car and gets his whole operation busted by police. With the breadwinner in jail, what’s Marcela to do? Move in with her crazy religious mother in-law (Emilia Vasaryova)? Nope. Stay with her own mother (Jana Brejchova) and the latter’s very creepy diabetic boyfriend (Jiri Schmitzer) in their cramped apartment? Yes, until something better comes along. Which, surprisingly, it does in the form of Czech-Italian vintner Benes (Josef Abrham), whose stolen car triggered Jarda’s arrest. He’s that staple of 1930s screwball comedies so seldom encountered since, in real or cinematic life: the suave older man who’s single, rich, lonely, and genuinely concerned over our underclass heroine’s welfare. This conceit might seem overly contrived in lesser hands than those of director Jan Hrebejk and scenarist Petr Jarchovsky (of prior foreign-language Oscar nominees 2000’s Divided We Fall and 2004’s Up and Down). But their excellently crafted and performed seriocomedy — with its frank yet funny sexual randiness — never feels less than credible. In a classically warm yet ironic, ambitious yet intimate, absurdist yet realistic Czech cinema fashion that Hrebejk and Jarchovsky will hopefully torch-carry well into the 21st century.

Beauty in Trouble opens Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters.