Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Don Juans (orig. Donšajni) [2013]

MPAA (R)  iDnes.cz (4/10)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD listing*
FDB.cz listing*

CervenyKoberec.cz (E. Bartlová) review*
iDnes.cz (M. Spáčilová) review*
Lidovky (M. Kabát) review* interview w. director*

Expats.cz (J. Pirodsky) review
Variety (R.. Scheib) review

Czech that Film [official site] [2014 line-up at GSFC in Chicago]

The Don Juans (orig. Donšajni) [2013] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (written and directed by Jiří Menzel [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) was the Czech Republic's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film competition at the 86th Annual Academy Awards (The Oscars).  On the flip side, the film caused something of a stir (and not necessarily a good one...) back in the Czech Republic where the film scored a 30% from viewers on its CSFD database, the continued sanity of the director (of Woody Allen's age and demeanor) was questioned and the film was even labeled as "possibly the worst Czech film made since the fall of Communism."  In other words, as one of Czech parents, who grew-up on films like Menzel's Oscar-winning (best foreign language picture) Closely Watched Trains (orig. Ostře Sledované Vlaky) [1966] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* and Secluded by the Woods (orig. Na Samotě u Lesa) [1976] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (filmed in the rolling Bohemian countryside near the village where my dad's family was originally from) as well as more recently I Served the King of England (orig. Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále) [2006] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*, I had to see the film ;-) ... and it played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago as part of 2014 Czech That Film Tour cosponsored by the Czech Diplomatic Mission to the United States.

The film then, which runs very much like a contemporary Woody Allen [IMDb] movie (one honestly thinks of Allen's most recent Magic in the Moonlight [2014]), is definitely on the parternalistic / sexist side (and this is exactly what Czech critical opinion, above, was most irritated with).  Yet it does have quite a few, ever-gentle laughs.

Set in a Czech provincial town (one thinks of Český Krumlov, Pardubice or Tábor ) at the center of the film are two protagonists: Vítek (played by Jan Hartl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*), male, and Markéta (played by Libuše Šafránková [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*), female.  He's a bored if still good-natured said-provincial-town opera director.  She's a still quite enthusiastic children's drama coach lifetime resident of the same provincial town.  Interestingly, they are roughly of the same age both presumably in their late 50s to early 60s.  Yet also tellingly, they are NOT romantic interests to each other in this film.  Vítek, bored though he may be with staging "provincial opera," nonetheless "takes solace" in bedding a veritable parade of young soprano women looking for lead parts in his productions.  Markéta, on the other hand, raised a now late 30-something daughter as a single parent, having allowed herself to be seduced by a dashing (then) "leading man" opera singer who passed through the provincial-town (readers, count the years yourselves ...) some decades past.  She doesn't necessarily have regrets, but she does admit that she has had a love-hate relationship with "Donšajni," that is, "Don Juans" in general and then with Mozart's opera Don Giovanni in particular.

Now it turns out that Vítek, whose opera company has been struggling for years, decides to go for broke and stage Don Giovanni at his opera house.  And he even invites the once dashing leading man "baritone" superstar, now thanks to age and attendant wear-and-tear reduced to "bass" voiced Jakub (played by Martin Huba [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) to "come back from America" to sing the part of Don Giovanni's great nemisis "Il Commendatore" (Don Pedro) in the opera.  And poor Jakub, who gets a free trip "back to the old country," accepts.  Now who is this once great, now whiskey and cigarettes ravaged Jakub?  I think most readers here will guess ... ;-) 

Much, often very funny ... in a typically light-hearted, Allenesque (the Czechs would add Svěrák-Smoljak-Cimrman-esque), "petite bourgeois" sort of way ... ensues ... ;-)

Folks, this is a goofy movie, but people who've ever liked the stories around "small town theater" would probably very much enjoy this light-hearted Czech-provincial "Baroque" version of Garrison Keillor's "Prarie Home Companion" [2006] ;-).

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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