Monday, August 1, 2011

Czech "Oscar" submission -- Marek Najbrt's PROTEKTOR -- opens Friday in New York

Every so often, for TrustMovies, a film comes along that is perfectly all right, more or less -- in terms of subject matter and style, concept and execution -- but that resolutely refuses to engage him. (Or he it.) Such a movie is PROTEKTOR, the 2009 Czech submission for "Oscar" bait as Best Foreign Language Film for 2010. Attempts at engagement were repeatedly made on TM's part, as the film is coming to us via Film Movement, a distribution company, the catalog of which, is full of fine movies, with rarely a clinker in the bunch. But while Protektor won a slew of awards in its home country, it's not a patch on the Czech Republic's Oscar submission from this past year, the fine Kawasaki's Rose.

Directed and co-written (with Robert Geisler and Benjamin Tucek) by Marek Najbrt, shown at left, the movie is a not uninteresting mash-up of film noir, World War II, Jews-in-danger and films-about-filmmaking/filmgoing/
film-projection (several key scenes take place on a shoot or in a cinema). Beginning in the middle, moving backward and then forward again until we've caught up, Protektor does have a few surprises in store, mostly involving the use of bicycles (see the film's poster above).

The story itself involves a marriage suddenly threatened by increasingly anti-Jewish Nazi edicts. The husband (Marek Daniel, above), who works for Czech radio, sees his career advancing, even as his Jewish wife, a beautiful actress on the cusp of stardom (Jana Plodková, below), sees hers destroyed. Bent on protecting his wife at (almost) all costs, the fellow instead nearly drives her (and us) to distraction.
God knows, there's plenty of dramatic possibility here, but from the outset the pacing seems off -- slow, with too much time wasted. Simple storytelling is given a backseat to "style" (that drained color palette, shown below, is growing tiresome from over-use).

Of the several things the movie gets right is its look at the price of collaboration. No matter who you are and how far you go, that price is too high, and yet the choice for a conquered people inevitably lies somewhere between small and large collaborations. Another interesting idea is that of the peculiar freedom obtained by being a provocateur -- until, at least, they catch you. Hubby chooses the former, while his wife -- with the help of the cinema projectionist (Tomás Mechácek below, left) who's carrying a torch for her -- plants herself firmly in the latter's frightening venue.

The idea of cinema as a kind of drug (we can all appreciate that, right?) raises its naughty head as the movie progresses. The finale, when it at last arrives, ought to be especially moving. But it, like all else in the film, goes on too long. With a running time of only 98 minutes, Protektor feels like two hours or more. Still, I admit that I somehow feel I ought to have enjoyed this movie a bit better. Maybe you will.
Protektor arrives in New York on Friday, August 5, at both the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, and elsewhere perhaps in the coming weeks and months.  Otherwise, as with all Film Movement titles, this one will eventually be available via DVD.

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