Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Long Live the Family! (orig. Rodina je Základ Státu) [2011]

Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

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

Long Live the Family! (orig. Rodina je Základ Státu) [CSFD, ENG-trans] written and directed by Robert Sedláček [CSFD, Eng-Trans] and one that had been nominated for 8 Czech Critics' Awards, is the last of a series of films 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).  Set in the contemporary Czech Republic, its thematics would probably immediately resonate with viewers across the post-Communist countries of the former Soviet bloc and perhaps give viewers from the countries of last year's "Arab Spring" an idea of what to look forward to.

The movie begins with Libor Pokorný (played by Igor Chmela [CSFD][Eng-trans]) a young 30-something former middle-level bank executive sitting, somewhat shell-shocked, with a bag with "some of his personal belongings" at his side in the lobby of the banking interest where he worked until that morning.  Police investigators (played by Martin Finger [CSFD][Eng-trans] and Monika Fingerová [CSFD][Eng-trans]) tying-up the loose-ends of their apparently successful raid on the offices of Libor's bank, take their time in coming-over to talk him.

When they do come over to talk, they remind him that they now have no less than 50 documents with his signature on them detailing various shady dealings of that firm and that he's looking at some very serious jail time.  He responds "Well, that's of course your interpretation."  They, of course, continue, telling him that all things considered he was still a relatively "small fish" and who they are really looking to nail are the people that he used to work for (and the ones who had just fired him / fed him to them...).  Would he be willing to work with them to get his former bosses?  Libor answers "I'll have to think about it."  They give him 24 hours and let him go home, reminding him that his former company car has been confiscated (he'll have to take the bus ...) and, of course, his company cell phone has been disconnected as well (shades of the Wall Street drama Margin Call [2011] of last year).  He doesn't particularly care about the cell phone, pulling out the company's SIM card and placing his own in the phone as soon as he gets out the door.  Still he's gonna have to explain what just happened to his family when he gets home ...

Libor arrives at home sometime later.  He and his wife Iva (played by Eva Vrbaková [CSFD][Eng-trans]) and two children Lukáš (played by Albert Mikšík) and Tina (played by Kristýna Tomicková) both of grade-school age, live in a recently spruced-up Bohemian village located somewhere at the outskirts of Prague.  Their modern looking house with a big picture window facing the nice, verdant, gently rolling countryside, still fits nicely from an aesthetic point of view with the other houses of the village. But it's clear that the 21st century has made it to this village that -- with its nicely restored medieval Church set upon a hill overlooking it -- has been around for the better part of a millenium.

How to explain what just happened to him "at work?"  Well, he takes his time.  Indeed, initially he avoids the subject completely.  Instead, he tells his wife and kids that he needs to step-out, goes to a bar, buys a bottle of Tequila and a big orange (limes apparently are rather rare in the Czech Republic, the sweeter and bigger oranges apparently make more sense) and goes up the hill, sets himself on a bench in front of that nice restored church and proceeds to drink himself silly.

But, of course, he can't stay "up there" and away from his family forever.  Eventually, he has to come down and face the music (sort of...).  And so, he eventually makes it home, but not before giving rest of the village/neighbors plenty to start gossiping about over the next few days.  Iva, a stay-at-home mom (but one who like Libor, had a college degree.  They were both initially trained as school teachers apparently), demands to know what's wrong.  He tells her at this point that lost his job.  Sigh / fine... they go to sleep.

The next day, when Libor wakes up with the inevitable hang-over, he asks Iva to pack the kids and that he wants to take the family on a short vacation.  But it's October, they have school.  No matter.  Libor explains that during the last several years, he's rarely been home.  Having lost his job now and being "somewhat disoriented" by it all, he just wants them to get out of town for short while so that he can regain his bearings and spend some time with them.  Okay, Iva and Libor pack up the kids and head for Moravia in the eastern part of the Czech Republic (where apparently Libor and Iva had originally been from ... originally they were _not_ from Prague).  It also obviously helps Libor that they "get out of town" a few hours before the police investigators come to his home to get a final word from him of whether or not he's going to cooperate with them in their investigation of his former bosses, or barring that ... to arrest him.

What follows is a chronicle of a nice, improvised "family vacation."  They visit Velehard [CZ, Eng-Trans], the first recorded "capital" in the Slavic world (the director of this film as well as the leads are all from Moravia [CZ, Eng-Trans]) and the site of the first mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius [CZ, Eng-Trans], who brought Christianity to the Slavs (the Cyrillic alphabet, which they created as a result of their Evangelization efforts to the Slavs bears St. Cyril's name).  Libor tells his 10-12 year old son that he worked on the archeological digs around the town when he was in college.  Libor and Iva also run into old college friends, Lenka and Jiří (played by Šimona Babčáková [CSFD][Eng-trans] and Jiří Vyorálek [CSFD][Eng-trans] respectively) and reminisce. 

Needless to say, none of this "time with family and old friends" can prevent the inevitable.  The police investigators are on their trail.  They have phones tapped, and not just of Libor and Iva but also of colleagues from Libor's work.  They're also watching Libor/Iva's credit cards for possible purchases.  And once they figure out that the two are somewhere near Velehrad, all the traffic and otherwise public surveillance cameras in the area, as rural as the region is, are put in their service to find them.  When the police investigators do catch them, at a moderately priced resort "closing down for the season" just across the border in Slovakia, the only question that they have is "If you were going to run, why Slovakia, why not the Seychelles or some place (far away) like that?"

And its left to the viewers to answer that question for themselves.

Again, I do think that a lot of people from Central and Eastern Europe (from countries of the former Soviet Bloc) could probably relate to this film and probably even understand Libor and Iva's behavior in those closing days before the axe finally fell.  Were they "running" at all?

As a final note, I would think that this film would work very well with other recent films from the former Soviet Bloc, including the award winning Polish film Chrzest [2010] and the English/Russian documentary My Perestroika [2011].  The transition from Communism to the post-Communist world has not been an easy one.  And yes, one of the biggest problems that all these populations have faced (and are still facing) is that of corruption and the mafia violence that attends it.

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