Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Step into the Dark (orig. Krok do Tmy) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing* listing* interview with director* (J. Dudková) review* (R. Tóthová) review* (R. Pospiš / J. Sklenár) review* (M. Ščepka) review* (M. Svoboda) review* (M. Spáčilová) review*

A Step into the Dark (orig. Krok do Tmy) [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Miloslav Luther [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] along with Marián Puobiš [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) is a SLOVAKIAN historical drama / post-WW II morality tale that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  The film served also as Slovakia's official submission to the Oscars' Best Foreign Film competition for 2014.

Set in a random town somewhere in central Slovakia largely in the early 1950s, hence after World War II and approaching the end of the worst period of imposed Soviet style post-War Communism, the film centers on Martin Dubovský (played excellently throughout by Marko Igonda [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) a promising and still fairly young doctor / respected war hero (during WW II, he was the commander of a local partisan unit during the Slovakian National Uprising [en.wikip] [sk.wikip]* against the Nazi backed Slovakian puppet state of the time) with a lovely family - wife Eva (played again wonderfully throughout by Monika Haasová [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) and two lovely young children.  In every ordinary sense of the word, Martin was a "good" and successful / respected guy, except ...

... for whatever reason, he allowed himself to get involved in an affair with a non-local/imposed/CZECH "Soudruška" (Comrade) named Soňa (played again very, very well, with multi-layer complexity by Kristýna Boková-Lišková [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]).  Why?

THAT'S A VERY GOOD QUESTION:  Why would someone who honestly has everything that one could reasonably hope for, one who's honestly lived by all accounts a good and honorable life, AND HAS RECEIVED THE HONOR / RESPECT THAT WOULD BE DUE SOMEONE WHO'S LIVED SUCH A GOOD AND HONORABLE LIFE ... even ABOVE AND BEYOND (again, he was A WAR HERO, A COMMANDER of a detachment of PATRIOTS / WAR-HEROES), why would someone like THAT fall into something SO STUPID / ALWAYS POTENTIALLY LIFE-WRECKING as enter into an affair with someone who -- okay she was good looking but not super-goodlooking, okay she had a personality (Martin's wife even liked her) and was something of a co-worker, etc -- taking two steps back (and if one was advising a friend) ONE WOULD SEE NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

Was it simply a lapse of judgement?  "Falling (if for a moment) asleep at the wheel" as it were?  Did his moderate local celebrity "go to his head?"  Did he come to think that he "earned" this kind of "picadillo" (little sin / affair on the side)?

THEN WAS IT ALSO, AT LEAST IN PART, BECAUSE HE WAS SLOVAK AND SHE WAS CZECH?  The post-WW I, Wilsonian creation that was Czechoslovakia, this was a country made-up of two peoples in which BOTH peoples felt that there was an "inequality of status" -- BOTH PEOPLES kinda felt that the Czechs were some how "higher on the totem pole" than the Slovaks.  The Czechs (who were, after all, in this conception "on top") tended to consider this as "a matter of course," while the Slovaks, as a matter of course, tended to resent it: How many times did Slovaks during those years of a unified Czechoslovakia had to correct people who'd say: "Oh, so you're Czech!" responding, eyes rolling, blood pressure rising: "No I'm Slovak!"  So did Martin enter into this affair AT LEAST IN PART because "bedding a Czech" somehow made him feel "better about himself" than if he was simply "bedding a(nother) Slovak?" 

And then also WAS HE ACTUALLY TARGETED by the (Czech) "Soudruška Soňa" "in the service of the Party?"  WHAT?  That'd be insane? But ...

There;s a telling early discussion in this film at a "Political Education" meeting at the Hospital where Martin works, LED by the "Political Human Resources" person, who was, none other than Soňa (That was, in fact, her job in this "nice midsized Slovakian town in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains" serving as the "Political officer" at Martin's hospital).

Now as an aside here, Readers, you think that YOU HATE the H.R. "motivational" BS at your place of employment ... WELL THESE POLITICAL "LECTURES" / and (if one dared....) "DISCUSSION PERIODS" WERE MANDATORY IN THE SOVIET BLOC COUNTRIES OF THE TIME.  To this day, I get a good row out of my dad, when I mention similar if far-more-random H.R. "motivational" BS that occurs often at work, ANYWHERE.  He always responds: "YOU DON'T KNOW what it was like to sit there and listen to this BS and fear that you're not gonna 'clap loud enough' when it was over...")

Anyway, at one of these "Political Education meetings" early in the film, Soudruška Soňa mentions: "In the new Socialist reality, we have evolved even in our morality:  In the Past, we were told by our Oppressors that there were Rules given to us 'From on High' that we we had to follow under all circumstances.  Today, the Party teaches that ALL RULES CAN BE PUT ASIDE WHEN THIS WOULD BE IN THE SERVICE OF THE PARTY."  (I remember my dad, who spent his late teens through his mid-20s in this system, recalling EXACTLY ALMOST WORD FOR WORD this "Teaching" -- that "In Marxist-Leninist theory EVEN MORALITY must SERVE THE PARTY."

Well, in the film, the only person who lifts up his hand to challenge the Soudruška is Dr. Martin (even though he's ALREADY entered into an affair with her...).  He tells her, "No.  There are Eternal Truths.  There are actions that are ALWAYS GOOD and ALWAYS WRONG."  The Soudruška answers, "No that's the OLD WAY OF THINKING.  I am telling you here, that in that in our new Socialist Reality, EVEN OUR CONCEPTS OF RIGHT AND WRONG, GOOD AND EVIL, MUST SERVE THE AIMS OF THE PARTY."

Okay, why "would it serve the aims of the Party" for Soudruška Soňa to seduce the local War hero / respected man in the community Martin?  Isn't it obvious ...?  By falling into this extra-marital entanglement, the Party then could control him in ways that it previously could not.


Now "Soudruška Soňa" was NOT presented in this film as simply Evil.  As the film progresses, one gets to understand her as well:  She grew-up with her family in a small town in (Czech) Moravia.  Her father (played again wonderfully by Miloslav Donutil [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) had been a lawyer in pre-Communist days.  After the Communists took-over he lost his position and had, indeed, been sent to "internal exile" to the far eastern reaches of Czechoslovakia to the borderlands between Slovakia and Soviet Ukraine.  Then 18-19 year old Soňa SLEPT WITH A LOCAL SLOVAKIAN COMMUNIST THUG, AND BECAME A PARROTING INDEED "SINGING" COMMUNIST PARTY MEMBER so that her father WHO THEN HATED HER FOR BECOMING A COMMUNST could at least move to serve out his term of "internal exile" in this Central Slovakian town where this drama played out: FOR THE SAKE OF HER FATHER, SHE BENT HER OWN / HER FAMILY'S MORAL RULES SO THAT HE WOULD NOT HAVE TO WORK IN A LUMBER GANG ON THE BORDER OF SLOVAKIA / SOVIET UKRAINE but instead live in _relative comfort_ in a moderately sized town in Central Slovakia.  Wow!
But once she took THAT STEP, she had to SING ... And here was Martin taking a different, perhaps less knowing, STEP INTO DARKNESS ... And much then ensues ...

An excellent and VERY thought provoking film!

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

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