Kráska v nesnázích (2006)


(director/writer: Jan Hrebejk; screenwriters: based on a Robert Graves poem/based on a story by Mr. Jarchovsky and Mr. Hrebejk/Petr Jarchovsky; cinematographer: Jan Malír; editor: VladimírBarák; music: Ales Brezina; cast: Anna Geislerová (Marcela Cmolíková), Josef Abrhám (Evzen Benes), Jirí Schmitzer (Richard), Roman Luknár(Jarda Cmolík), Jana Brejchová (Zdena), Jan Hrusínský (Havlik), Adam Misík(Kuba),Michaela Mrvíková(Lucina), Emília Vásáryová (Libuse Cmolíková); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ondrej Trojan; Menemsha; 2006-Czech Republic-in Czech with English subtitles)

an uncanny soap opera story that turns weird.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Czech drama takes its title from a Robert Graves poem. Director Jan Hrebejk (“Pupendo/“Up and Down”/”Divided We Fall”) bases it on a story he wrote with Petr Jarchovsky.

The low-class family of Marcela (Anna Geislerová) and Jarda (Roman Luknár) lose everything during the 2002 Prague flood, and the mechanic father resorts to running a chop shop in his garage to pay the bills. Caught with the stolen Volvo of wealthy Tuscany-based vintner Benes (Josef Abrhám), Jarda is imprisoned. Before the arrest Marcela had another spat with hubby, but this one resulted in her moving out to her mother Zdena‘s (Jana Brejchová) apartment with her 15-year-old daughter Lucina (Michaela Mrvíková) and adolescent asthmatic son Kuba (Adam Misík).

The resilient 32-year-old mom, who works in a travel agency, meets in the waiting room of a Prague police station the much older Benes and is taken by his kindness, as they soon date despite her hubby’s arrest for stealing his car. At Zdena‘s place, mom and the kids are made uncomfortable by Marcela’s cranky stepfather Richard (Jirí Schmitzer), who goes bonkers with enforcing rules the guests must follow and berates the kids for eating his diabetic cookies and not taking out the garbage. His character serves as a source of comic relief and as a political metaphor for past tyrants.

Benes has left his Italian villa to reclaim a Prague house that was previously seized by the communists, and is now occupied by a tenant with an ailing old mother. While Benes is in town for the final sale, he experiences the difficulty of moving out his tenant and tries to be generous but instead finds he’s betrayed by the greedy tenant and has to resort to doing business as a cold way to keep the overreaching in place. Meanwhile Benes courts the conflicted Marcela, who has a penchant for showing off her boobs. The disrespected Marcela realizes she has a chance to escape her screwed up life with this angel benefactor and now must choose life with the elegant wealthy man old enough to be her father, whose love is genteel, or return to her released from prison schmuck hubby whom she adores only because she has hot sex with him.

The value of the pic is that it’s observant of class differences, has fluid characters who veer between being monsters and sympathetic lost souls, and offers an uncanny soap opera story that turns weird. It’s an engaging film that reflects the vast changes and mood swings in recent Czech life, and lets us see that only the children have still retained their innocence and only they offer hope for the Czech future. It’s not a totally convincing assumption, nevertheless I appreciated its unrelenting attack on the intolerant extremists of both the left and right-wings who make life miserable for those just trying to get by surviving from life’s inconveniences.