Monday, March 11, 2013
Perfect Days - I ženy mají své dny 
Lidovky (M. Kabat)* review
Perfect days - I ženy mají své dny  (directed and screenplay by Czech filmmaker Alice Nellis, based on the play Perfect Days  by Scottish playwright Liz Lochhead [IMDb]) is a comedy that played recently at the 16th Annual European Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.
In many respects, the film reminded me of the Polish romantic comedy Letters to Santa (Listy do M)  (directed by the Slovenian director Mitja Okorn) that played last November at the Polish Film Festival in Chicago. While Polish and Czech/Slovak cinemas are different animals, it is interesting to note that both Nellis and Okorn took advantage of talent/materials existing "outside" and applied them to their projects at home. In the case of Nellis' Perfect Days, she took a translated play by Liz Lockhead (which Nellis apparently already directed onstage* in Prague) and then set-about putting it on-screen. In the case of Okorn's Letters to Santa, he took the Polish script for the comedy that he was given by the film's producers, had it translated into English, sent it to Hollywood to have it reworked, and then had it re-translated back into Polish, producing, in fact, a product that became the most successful Polish romantic comedy as yet ever made. (Interestingly enough, the "commercialism" of Nellis' work here irritated a number of Czech/Slovak film critics,* a critical community that rightfully considers itself (and then even Czech/Slovak cinema) on par with anybody).
I chose to see this film, even though I've already seen a couple of Czech and Slovak films (one each) at the the EU Festival because being of Czech descent and reading the Gene Siskel Center's capsule description for the film I knew that for better or for worse the film's thematics would be perhaps all-too "contemporary." This is because while Prague is certainly a beautiful city and every rock or street corner has a history to it, for many foreign tourists, it is known above all for being a rather libertine place.
As such, this film is about a good-looking, fashionable and otherwise successful 40-something woman named Erika (played by Ivana Chýlková [IMDb] [CSFD]*) who decides that what's been missing in her life is not a husband. She's had one, Viktor (played by Bohumil Klepl [IMDb] [CSFD]* and has been on amicable terms if separated from him for years. She's not looking even a relationship with anyone (again, she's "made it" on her own). All she finds that she wants is simply a kid. So at 44, Erika sets about looking for a sperm donor.
Now she's still interested in knowing and liking the person from whom she would get the requisite sperm. But she's clear that she does not want to be otherwise involved with him and, while not completely opposed, she'd be profoundly ambivalent about the presence/absence of father in the future child's life. She just wants a kid.
Hers makes for a fascinating (and challenging) counter-position to today's rather radicalized Catholic theology (as sometimes happens when the Church finds itself in controversy/under attack) that insists that a child is created by God (with the secondary collaboration of the parents) even in the case of rape where the woman emphatically would not have collaborated in the child's creation but would have had it imposed on her, first by the male and then arguably by God. Indeed, to get out of this theological coule-de-sac, I honestly would like to see today's moral theologians revisit the medieval theory of "postponed ensoulment" as a means of allowing for dialogue between the man, woman AND GOD prior to ensoulment to so as to protect God from inadvertently becoming a secondary rapist as a result of inadvertently over-radicalized theology.
In this film, all that Erika asks her friend Richard (played by Ondřej Sokol [IMDb] [CSFD]*) for is his sperm and then sets about creating the child without ANY particular thought of requesting GOD's approbation. It's a reminder to all of whose collaboration is absolutely necessary to create a child and bring that child to term. The male can't do this on his own, and God would have to resort to extraordinary means (a miracle). The ordinarily indispensable party in the creation of the child and bringing him/her to term is, in fact, the woman.
This is not to say that what Erika chooses to do in this movie is anything but appalling morally, and I am positive that the intention of the movie was to make movie-goers "wince" and ask themselves "Wait a minute, there's something (deeply) wrong here." Yet the simple fact is that children can be created the way that Erika seeks.
Secondary arguments can come into play: Should a woman be forced to endure an abusive relationship to have a child? How about not an abusive relationship but a deathly stifling one or a even simply really really boring one? (Erika and her husband apparently didn't want children when they were together and for one reason or another they apparently "drifted apart" over time). What if one's relationship wasn't particularly bad but just fell apart and now it's "too late" to presumably try to fix again?
The standard Catholic position is, in fact, that no one has a "right" to a child, that children are, in fact, gifts from God. And sometimes God for inscrutable reasons chooses not to give a couple a child (just like God does not answer every faithful wannabe the talent and circumstances to become "Michael Jordon" or "Bill Gates.") We are told, in fact, by the 9th and 10th commandments (Exod 20:17) to be happy with what we have.
So while Erika could choose to do what she chose to do in the film, it would still be considered morally wrong (certainly according the Catholic teaching). She was attractive, successful, even did have a husband with whom she could have had a child "back in the day" if they had only wanted one. But both she and her husband didn't want one then. And now, at 44 and single again, suddenly she wants a child.
This then is the problem presented in "comedic" form in the film: Erica wants a child, (so long as she can get her hands on some sperm), she's certainly capable of making that child, but should she? Much ensues ...and it really is a Brave New World, pretty much everywhere.
* Machine translations into English of the Czech and Slovak links provided are most easily viewed through use of Google's Chrome brower.
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