Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Matchmaking Mayor (orig. Nezvatbov) [2010]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD listing - [CZ orig, ENG-trans]

The Matchmaking Mayor (orig. Nezvatbov) directed by Erika Hníková [CSFD, Eng-Trans] is a documentary, a Czech and Slovak collaboration (subtitled in English) that played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago as part of the 2012 New Czech Films Tour organized by the Czech Film Center and the Czech Consulates in Chicago and New York.  (The tour promises to visit 8 major cities in the United States including New York, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Washington D.C. and Seattle).

It is about the mayor (a retired general) of a small Slovakian town, Zemplínske Hámre [SK, Eng-Trans], in the picturesque, rolling, gently forested eastern Slovakian countryside, who's done much to turn his town around in his seven years in office.  The open credits declare that he's "Lowered unemployment, built a new [soccer] stadium and municipal swimming pool, improved the streets and sewage systems, brought in cable TV.  By all accounts he's beloved by all.  But there's one problem he's not been able to fix.  In his town are 70 unmarried people over thirty years of age who according to the mayor really ought to be having children.  As such, already two years ago he promised a not altogether insubstantial monetary award to any unmarried towns-person who got married and produced a child within a year of doing so.  As yet, no one has come forward to claim the award.  However, this has not discouraged the mayor from pursuing other options..."

The cynic could say, what can he do?  Well, as a good Catholic mayor with a good Catholic wife (he's pictured at one point napping on a couch in his house under a large picture of the Sacred Heart) in a town inhabited overwhelmingly by good Catholic townsfolk (even those unmarried 30+ year olds are no radical eyes and ears pierced head-to-toe tattoo covered "monsters."  They are -- both male and female -- good honest, salt of the earth folk that one truly finds _in any parish_ -- one 40+ year old single woman is introduced to us as she's finishing mopping clean the floor of the sanctuary and is continuing to sponge clean the tarnish off the brass on the tabernacle in the parish church...) he does what any good Catholic authority figure would do in a case like this -- He guilts them:  "Don't you want to get married?  Don't you think God wants you to get married?  Don't you see that the town, the country, indeed the world needs you to 'settle down' and have kids?  Don't think it's going to be easy for you in the second half of life, who's going to take care of you as you get older?"  And he means it sincerely.  And both the men and the women, salt of the earth as they are, kinda dip their heads and smile, "yes, mayor..." and of course continue with their day...

Finally, the mayor and his wife decide that they are going hold an end-of-summer municipal 30+ singles' get-together, and invite not just all the men and women of the town that fit that category but also those singles form all the other towns and villages in the area (I'm guessing, within a 5-10 km radius).  And the camera follows the mayor's wife personally inviting every single single-person in at least the town to the get-together.  What could go wrong?

Well, it doesn't really succeed.  I'll leave it to the readers here to find, see or rent the film to find out why...

However, as gentle, pastoral as the set-up to the film was, I will say that the last 10 minutes of the film are surprisingly harsh and bring the film (and the audience) back to reality but then really make the film potentially an excellent discussion piece.

For the documentary film-maker is after all a young, educated, (Czech) woman from Prague (the city) and the mayor is an older (Slovakian) man, a former general (therefore obviously also educated and obviously more than competent/successful throughout his career) who's otherwise been a very successful mayor of that small Slovakian town (in the countryside).  And the voices (and prejudices) of both come out loud and clear at the end.  And of course what makes the film so great is that _both_ of these people are at least partially right. (Indeed, the Czech young woman film-maker doesn't really say all that much.  But she doesn't have to: She controls the camera ...).

I would also add that there would be plenty of Slovaks (especially younger ones) who'd probably agree with the young Czech woman film-maker's exasperation at the end, while more than a few Czechs (especially older ones) would sympathize more with the older, retired general, Slovakian mayor.  But the play stereotypes here (especially if understood as being _intended as play_) actually works quite well here and enhances the the message that both the older retired (more regimented) general and the younger (more feminist?) film-maker from the city have a point ...
Finally, I would add that I recently saw another documentary, a Russian one, (called Russian Reserve) which concerned itself with much the same problem (the gradual dying of rural-village life) as this film did.  And I'm more or less certain that the Russian Orthodox priest's (typically big country "Russian" and typically "Orthodox") opinion at the end of that film would probably irritate both the young Czech film maker from Prague and older Slovakian mayor from the countryside.  But his insight into the matter is worth consideration as well.  (Find / rent that film too ;-)

To Americans, especially American Catholics from cities like Chicago packed with people of Slavic decent, I'd definitely recommend this current film as you'll recognize faces and attitudes throughout it (and not just of the single people in their 30s+ but also of their parents, neighbors, coworkers, etc).  Again, none of the single people in this film are portrayed badly.  They are kind, salt of the earth folk.  But one gets the sense that most of them are probably never going to get married...


It might also be worthwhile for readers here to consider this film to be a less harsh/more balanced and certainly "more true to life" (it's a documentary after all...) playing-out of the story in the film Chocolat [2000], which centered on "an epic battle" (fictional but at times very, very funny and certainly at other times very, very pointed) played out in a small French provincial town in the late-1950s / early 1960s between an unmarried 40-something "woman in red" newcomer to the town and the upper-end of middle-aged mayor whose "great, great, great grandfather's statue stood in the middle of the town's square."

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