Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Men in Hope (orig. Muži v Naději) [2011]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD* listing
FDb.cz* listing
Lidovky.cz* (A. Prokopová) review

Men in Hope (orig. Muži v Naději) [2011] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*(written and directed by Jiří Vejdělek [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) a smart/current if certainly morally provocative/challenging adult 30-40 something oriented "romantic" comedy (of the vein of the Marilyn Monroe classic The Seven Year Itch [1955] [IMDb] [TCM] that was also provocative/controversial in its time) finished off a remarkable and remarkably well rounded 2013 Czech That Film Tour cosponsored by the Czech Diplomatic Mission in the United States and Staropramen Beer that played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.  In the course of the past year, the Gene Siskel Film Center has also hosted similar surveys of largely current films from Turkey, Hong Kong and Spain as well as similarly outstanding extended homages to the animated works of Studio Ghibli of Japan [2012] [2013]

I have to admit that for thematic reasons, I thought that this film was going to be the most difficult of the film tour to write about here on my blog.  Yet I wished to do so because (1) the film is indeed current, representative of the moral challenges present not only in the C.R. but across a good part of Europe today (and in my time in the seminary in Italy in the 1990s I came across similarly themed and similarly light-hearted Italian films) and (2) after the initial shock: "This film is trying to explore WHAT?" (the film was trying to explore the question: "Can one actually choose to be unfaithful to one's spouse for the sake of one's spouse/marriage?") AS IS ALMOST ALWAYS THE CASE, the comedy inevitably retreats back to safer pastures.  (The film's answer to its question becomes, unsurprisingly and resoundingly "No."  And one thinks of recent American films like the Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman vehicle No Strings Attached [2011] and the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis vehicle Friends With Benefits [2011] that while intended for younger audiences played a similar day-dreamy / coquettish dance with social convention / the moral order of things before returning by the end back to reality).

Yet the conventions of "romantic comedy" generally require that "all end well," the result here being that "all" needed to "end" at least "kinda well" for the protagonists of the film even after crossing the line of this rather provocative social experiment.  And so it does, to the perhaps rightful consternation of many viewers / social commentators (see the Czech language links - if through Chrome or Google Translate - given above).

One could note here the very different and far more morally decisive conclusion to African American film-maker Tyler Perry's recent movie Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor [2013].  Yet one needs to note here that Tyler Perry's Temptation was a very different kind of film - a drama rather than the adult oriented (intended for 30-40 somethings) romantic comedy (again of the vein of Marylin Monroe's Seven Year Itch [1955] [IMDb]) that we have here.

Still it is doubtful that anyone leaves the current film feeling that any of the film's protagonists came-out particularly vindicated.  The film ended "kinda okay" but (1) the traditional order of things (that adultery is definitely not a good idea...) is vindicated and (2) while none of the film's adulterers were ruined or publicly humiliated, all were certainly chastened, and resolved to very quietly "sin no more."  (Indeed, one thinks here of Jesus' resolution of the crisis involving "The woman caught in the very act of adultery" [John 8:1-11]).

Okay, so how does the film actually go? ;-)

The film begins with content, recently retired, now driving a taxi cab about town as a second job, "man of the world" and serial filanderer Rudolf (played by Bolek Polívka [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) concerned that his seemingly all-thumbed, increasingly put-upon, increasingly "hen pecked" son-in-law Ondřej (played by Jiří Macháček [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) is unhappy, and more to the point, that Ondřej's making his (Rudolf's) daughter Alice (played by Petra Hřebíčková [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) unhappy.

So, concerned for the sake of his daughter/son-in-law's marriage, Rudolf takes Ondřej to a pool hall one night and over a couple of drinks offers Ondřej some rather surprising and unsolicited advice to resolve his "problem":
      "You have to cheat my son(-in-law).  No woman likes a door-mat (even less a daughter of mine).  Women like a challenge.  So for the sake of your marriage you're going to have to cheat on your wife." ;-)
      "Well thanks very much there dear (father-in-law).  And by the way you know that you're asking me to cheat on your own daughter."
      "Yes.  How do you think I've kept things fresh with Alice's mother (your mother-in-law) Marta (played by Simona Stašová [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) all these years ... by cheating on her."
      "And does she know?"
      "Whether she does or not, it does not matter.  It's not who one's with but who one comes back to.  And Alice's mom knows that I always come back to her, that I make her happy, that I keep things interesting with her both in and out of the sack, that I always keep her guessing and always, always leave her with a smile on her face."
      "And you know that can not possibly work for me."
      "Well something must..."
      "You know I can't lie ..."
      "Well, we're going to have to work on that ..."

And so then, the premise of the film is set-up.  It turns out that Rudolf wasn't just inviting Ondřej over for a few drinks and give him some odd, uterly unsolicited marital advice.  He's (of course) awaiting a lady, Šarlota (played by Vica Kerekes) a young voluptuous dancer/aerobics instructor transplant to Prague from Slovakia.  "She could be your grand-daughter."  "Yup, but women like that keep me fresh."  After introducing Ondřej (pronounced basically Ondray) to smiling 20-something Šarlota (pronounced Sharlota), Rudolf sort of chases him away asking him to "think about it." Ondřej now knowing more about his father-in-law than he ever really wanted to, kinda winces ... and goes home, arriving home, adding insult to injury, drenched by rain.

But Ondřej's life really was pretty unhappy both in the bedroom with his wife and outside of it.  So a few days later when he, surprise surprise runs into Šarlota on the street and gets past the question: "What would someone like you possibly see in an old dědek (grandpa) like him?" "He's funny, he makes me laugh," he finds it actually pleasant to talk to someone new.  And perhaps some of Rudolf's charm wears-off on him.  So they start talking and find that they hit it off ...

Much, of course, follows.  Yes, Ondřej's confidence does increase from being around someone who hasn't come to dismiss him (yet?) as a loser.  And that new confidence carries itself over to his other relationships, notably with his wife and even with their employees at the restaurant that the two had started sometime back and had been failing.

But of course, there are inevitable repercussions resulting from that kind of "lifestyle."  First, Rudolf himself, after perhaps a long streak of getting away with this, comes to be busted more or less in flagrante.  Then perhaps just as he and his wife are getting over that debacle, other, more or less inevitable things happen in their lives.  Then Ondřej, nice if rather simple guy that he is (or that he was at the beginning of the story) is really not cut out of this kind of complicated life.  So there are some inevitable bombs that await him as well as the story continues ...

So in the end, while the conventions of romantic comedy require that "all end well," the conventions of REALITY also require justice.  And while the film ends with a smile, it'd be hard for ANYBODY to see it as truly a happy ending or that Rudolf's advice to Ondřej at the beginning of the film was particularly good for him.

Yes, it may be nice to day dream sometimes ... but REALITY is REALITY and there really is no free lunch.  And after all is said and done, the film brings us back to earth and reminds us of this quite well.


As is the case of most of the films in the 2013 Czech That Film series, at the time of the writing of this review, this film is available for viewing outside of the Czech Republic for free (quite possibly with the Czech Film Institute's blessing) on YouTube even with English subtitles (click the CC button on the viewer for the subtitles to appear).

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