Monday, November 22, 2010

Jan Hřebejk/Petr Jarchovský KAWASAKI'S ROSE: a shoo-in for BFLF nomination?

Another whopping good Czech film from the team of Jan Hřebejk and Petr Jarchovský, who earlier gave us Divided We FallUp and Down and Beauty in Trouble, KAWASAKI'S ROSE is every bit as fine as those other three films -- maybe better. (When serious filmmaking gets as good as this, comparisons begin to seem petty.) You might think, from the great and humane work of this film-making team, that the Czech Republic (what TM used to call Czechoslovakia) down the decades has been and continues to be a veritable hotbed of terribly divided characters who -- torn between doing good and bad, looking out for themselves and/or others, and most of all, despite their desperate and sometimes best attempts to do the right thing -- end up betraying each other.

While each country has its own history, those that spent some decades under eastern bloc dictatorships have their own special and continuing trauma to deal with, as we saw a few years back in the fine German film The Lives of Others -- of which Kawasaki's Rose may remind you at times. Here in America, while we've had nothing quite like that (though we may have come, over the past decade, closer than we know), we have had our run-ins with political/personal betrayals during our Blacklist years of the "informing" 1950s, and this movie may have you, as it did me, thinking of Elia Kazan, whose name and work is back in the news/culture these days.

Betrayal is paramount to Kawasaki's Rose, and it comes in all kinds of ways -- from the more typical infidelities that haunt marriage from generation to generation to the ratting-out of one's comrades in times of political upheaval and stress. In this immeasurably subtle, flawlessly woven movie, both sorts of betrayals are linked in a kind of dance that leaves its players, along with us viewers, shaken and forced to confront the "whole" of what character comprises.
Judgments must be made, of course, but -- whew -- they are not so easily managed coming out, as we might have imagined going in. It is to the great credit of these constant collaborators -- director Hřebejk (shown above) and writer Jarchovský (shown at right) -- that they manage all this with such fluidity and graceful filmmaking. Their movie flows along, encompassing a relatively wide range of characters, all of whose humanity and individual needs register strongly, despite -- more often because of -- their flaws.

In the center of the story's ensemble is an extended family, the daughter of which (Lenka Vlasáková , below) has just had a bout with cancer (her scene in the doctor's office is wonderfully original -- giving us as much information about her character as it does the necessary exposition). Her father, a distinguished psychiatrist (played by Martin Huba, above), is about to be honored with a high award of  the state for his life's work, as well as his role as a famous dissident under the Communist regime. His son-in-law, part of the documentary crew filming the family (and, it seems, vetting the shrink's bona fides), has some personal problems with this man, which soon impinge on his professional work.

These are all bright, quick, intelligent and likable people, and yet things are not as they seem. We're soon neck-deep in all kinds of contradictions: personal, political, moral.  The fluidity of the film-making, together with its quiet, easy pacing, allows us to enter these people's world in a sidelong manner, learning as we go, in much the way that the characters themselves are doing it.

The deeper we get, the more bizarre things turn, and the film has one of the richest mother-daughter outbursts (that's the mother, played by Daniela Kolárová, above) that I've seen in some time. Heroes have feet (legs and torsos) of clay, and there's a trip to a foreign land that reaps surprising benefits. By the finale, with its incredibly moving and meaningful speech, we've come quite a distance.  This is, in fact, an even better film that The Lives of Others because it relies less on melodrama and is more thoughtful and stringent.

If there are no heroes to rally behind (nor mourn), the filmmakers are to be congratulated for not giving us any facile "We're all guilty" conclusion.  We may be, of course, but to varying degrees and in ways more important and less. You'll see, hear, feel for and finally understand the perspective of all the characters here -- including one fellow (shown above, right, with his pal), whom we encounter in that foreign country. Whether you'll be inclined to forgive some of them is another matter. But I guarantee you will wonder what you'd have done, under these same circumstances.

Kawasaki's Rose, from Menemsha Films, opens this Wednesday, November 24, at Film Forum in New York City, and is, I suspect, a shoo-in for our Motion Picture Academy's shortlist and most probably a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film.  (Divided We Fall was also a nominee.)

Special note: the film’s director Jan Hřebejk will be present for a screening and post-screening discussion at Film Forum on Saturday, November 27, at 7:50pm. Noted Eastern European film specialist Irena Kovarova will be moderating this event -- which is co-sponsored by New York's Czech Center at Bohemian National Hall as part of the closing event of its continuing series of new Czech films.  Click here, and then scroll down, for details. 

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