Sunday, February 27, 2005

Up and Down: Czech Oscar candidate

The Czech director Mr. Jan Hřebejk has produced a new movie in 2004, namely Horem pádem which is translated as Up and Down (quite a boring translation). It's a rather frustrating comedy about the contemporary Czech society. When we describe it as a comedy, be sure that only black humor is being served. You may also look at the review in the New York Times. A random generator has decided that this movie would be shown as the #1 among all 49 nominated movies.

There are two main storylines in the movie available as a DVD above that eventually join seamlessly:

Franta (Jiří Macháček) and his wife Míla (Nataša Burger) who is psychologically unstable and dreams about a kid are not allowed to adopt a child because Franta is a former soccer hooligan. This couple lives in a crowded apartment in Prague and they eventually buy a child that two smugglers found in their truck. Franta's friend who is a skinhead does not like the child's dark skin. The movie describes the life of racists and various anti-immigration feelings in a realistic fashion.

The other story line involves Martin (Petr Forman, the son of the director Miloš Forman; incidentally, Václav Havel also appears on the screen) who lives in Australia. One of the goals of shooting in Australia was to show the contrast between the gray and crowded Prague on one side, and the sunny and free Australian beaches on the other side. Martin, who is the most positive character in the movie, returns to the Czech Republic when he learns that his father, Prof. Otakar Horecký, suffers from brain tumors. The plot gets messy because Otakar, the father, has lived with Ms. Hana Svobodová (Ingrid Timková) for quite some time. Well, that would be fine except that Hana used to be Martin's girlfriend.

The movie shows the tension between Hana and Mrs. Věra Horecká (Emília Vašáryová, a prominent Slovak actor), Martin's mother (who has been separated both from Martin and Otakar for years). Věra, the mother, is an example of a materialist, but honest woman who suffers from class bitterness. Hana, on the other hand, is a young liberal human rights activist who suffers from the feelings of moral superiority. Poor Martin finds himself in the middle.

These two plots eventually intersect in an unforced manner. Hřebejk analyzes various aspects of the life of the society: crime, unemployment, corruption, the friends of the "old orders" who are not too happy about the new regime, racism, unwanted immigrants, and the increasing gap between the poor and the rich.

One of the main features of Hřebejk's movies is that almost no character is completely negative or completely positive: even the "bad guys" do some good acts and they care about the brown child. On the other hand, the educated characters often manifest themselves as racist bigots. The Good and the Evil are mixed up in a way that defines complex, high-brow art. Let me admit that I slightly prefer movies whose heroes can be divided to the good guys and the bad guys (which is the case of most of the movies from Hollywood) - but my guess is that the Academy Awards may have different standards.

The previous Czech movie that has won the Oscar was Kolya by the director Jan Svěrák in 1996.


  1. Hi Lubos,
    The most totally bizarre film I ever saw in my life was a Czech film called "Little Otrik", based on a Czech horror fairy tale about a childless couple who adopt a tree stump that looks like a baby but comes alive and eats people!
    Really strange. A lot of dark humor in it too though. It was a film by Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajor
    I have always found Czech films interesting though and I am sure the one you mention will be interesting too.

  2. I saw it (suitably so, since almost sawable %/) too.

    It sure could be one of the weirdest films made i Europe. (Thought it'd be wise to leave room for the Japanese.;)