Thursday, November 5, 2009

Czechs and Balances: Jan Hrebejk's BEAUTY IN TROUBLE is a Don't-Miss DVD

What is it about those Czechs? In particular a film-
maker such as Jan Hrebejk (below), who has directed some 19 movies, written or co-writ-
ten a few of these and is also a sometimes actor? Over the past decade, three of these films have been must-sees for TrustMovies -- Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat from 2000, a

multi-award-winner also nominated for an Os-
car), Up and Down (Horem pádem from 2004 ) & BEAUTY IN TROUBLE (Kráska v nesnázích, made in 2006, released theatri-
cally in the U.S. in 2008, and now at last on DVD). Is it the best of the three? Maybe. In any case, it is so good as to be unmissable for anyone who enjoys the bracing complexities of life that foreign films so often supply.

What makes this movie -- as others from Hrebejk -- so wonderful is the filmmaker's keen understanding of the complexities of the human character as it confronts the compromises that must be made to survive and grow. How Hrebejk's people manage this -- in films that are as funny as they are dramatic and real -- is what makes this guy a great filmmaker.

Hrebejk places ensembles front and center in stories that bring disparate folk together. Beauty in Trouble offers up two families -- and the new family that has come from them -- then tosses in an unusual character who stirs the whole pot to terrific effect. This fellow named Richard is played with the expected charm and sophistication but also a truckload of strength by the fine actor Jirí Schmitzer (shown at right). He may seem saint-like initially, but don't let that fool you. He's wealthy, too, and has put that wealth to very good use -- as much for himself as for others.

Through no fault of his own, Richard comes into the lives of a husband and wife, played respectively by Roman Luknár (above, right) and Anna Geislerová (above, left) -- the later being the titular "Beauty." And is she ever. She's a terrific actress, too, easily able to bring us, via the help of Hrebejk's fluid direction and a fine screenplay by Petr Jarchovský into her thoughts and feelings so that we can't help but understand and empathize with some increasingly complicated situations.

These include moving in with mom and step-dad, above (which of course brings up the past and a lot of unresolved issues), and prison (shown below),

which leads to trying to raise a couple of kids on one's own...

a funeral...

a real estate deal gone south (the tricks of the trade in a country that's moved quickly from Communist dictatorship to extreme capitalism have rarely been exhibited so startlingly)...

and a Italian villa-cum-estate to die for.

And yet. Compromise is everywhere. So is surprise, beauty, sadness, immense humor and even fundamentalist religion in a formerly godless country -- together with a view of life both broad and mature enough to take in all of this.

Beauty in Trouble, though jam-packed with plot development, never rings false because each new wrinkle makes sense and is grounded so well by the characters involved. It's the rare film that leaves you elated by its quality yet chastened by the view of humanity that you've just witnessed -- and which you will immediately come to realize is that of you and me and everyone we know.

You can purchase Beauty in Trouble from Amazon and elsewhere, or rent it from Netflix (Blockbuster can't be bothered to carry this title) or, if you're lucky, some independent dealer near you who caters to smart, humanistic tastes.

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