Monday, June 29, 2015

Krásno [2014]

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

IMDb listing
CSFD listing* listing*

Aktuá (J. Gregor) review*
Červený (J. Kábrt) review*
Česká Televize (M. Šobr) review* (M. Spáčilová) review* (M. Kabát) review*

Krásno [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed and cowritten by Ondřej Sokol [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* along with Martin Finger [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* and Petr Vydra [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) closes-out the 2015 Czech That Film Tour organized by the Czech Foreign Ministry / Ministry of Culture, which makes its stop this month (June, 2015) at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

The film is a smart (perhaps too "smart" for its own good) noirish dark comedy that borrows/applies the conventions of similar American / Western films -- influences would range from The Hangover [2009] / Pain and Gain [2013] to Martin McDonagh's In Bruges [2009] / Seven Psychopaths [2012], to the Coen Brothers' Fargo [1996] to the Humphrey Bogart "Noir just before it came to be called Noir" classic The Maltese Falcon [1941] -- to spin a very contemporary Czech story.  The effect though may have been to produce a film that was more provocative than intended ;-).

The story is about two quite well-off, approaching 40, hence no longer entirely young men, Adam (played by Ondřej Sokol [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) and Michal (played by Martin Finger [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) coming back, after some (not a huge amount, but some) years, presumably from Prague to the (NOT tiny but still quite provincial) town of their birth, Šumperk (in German it used to be called Mährisch Schönberg) in the Olomouc region of northern Moravia in the Czech Republic.

It's clear that that the two disdained going back.  True the region was nominally BEAUTIFUL (the film's title "Krásno" arguably means "beautiful" in Czech), but both appear to find the town's nominal beauty kitsch / quaint and, more to the point, below its facade, FAKE.  In the Czech dialogue of the film, the word "krásno" (or one or another derivative) appears with some frequency and almost always in the context of using something "lovely" to hide / cover-over some kind of ugliness.

And let's face it, there'd be A LOT OF HORROR / AWFULNESS to find "beneath the surface" of "quiant, lovely provincial" Šumperk [en.wikip] [cs.wikip] [de.wikip] BEGINNING with the Czechified name of "Šumperk" itself:

Though historically part of the Lands of the Czech Crown (the Czechlands) -- Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia -- prior to Czech(oslovak) independence in 1918, the town of Mährisch Schönberg (Šumperk) was almost entirely populated with ethnic (SUDETEN) GERMANS with a significant JEWISH minority.  The Czech population, small prior to Czechoslovak independence, increased in the interwar period because the town was a fairly significant borderland railroad junction and the Czechoslovak government needed the trains to run through the region reliably (with Czech workers).  Enter the War: the town along with the surrounding region was annexed to Nazi Germany as part of the infamous 1938 Munich Pact.  DURING THE WAR, the previous Jewish population in the region was largely exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust (and the ethnic Czechs would have been expelled).  Then AFTER THE WAR the Czechs returned and armed with the Beneš Decrees promptly EXPELLED ALL THE ETHNIC GERMANS, repopulating this "picturesque town" (and others just like it) with Czechs and Slovaks not only from Czechoslovakia proper but also with Czechs resettled from Western Ukraine (the Russians had taken those lands from the Poles...) and Slovaks from Romania.  Add then a sizable number of GREEK (Communist) refugees from the post-WW II Greek Civil War and Roma (Gypsies) from all over the country, ALL TO MAKE THE "PICTURESQUE TOWN" NOT _SEEM_ SO VACANT.  Now why would it be VACANT?  Because MOST OF ITS ORIGINAL RESIDENTS -- BOTH JEWISH AND GERMAN were either DEAD or otherwise EXPELLED.

So ... what a "lovely town" ... "beautiful it is, really ..."

'Cept, neither of the approaching 40-year-olds, Adam and Michal, returning back to the town were at all that concerned about the monumentally awful history of the town in which they grew-up.  Instead, what they hated about the town was that it had seemed "SO BORING."

Now WHY would it be so?  Just think about it for a minute: What would ANYONE of any AUTHORITY from parents to local government ("back in the day" Communist) officials "talk about" when these two were growing up? ... When 9/10 people living there (including they themselves) were LIVING ON OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY, IN OTHER PEOPLE'S HOMES, EVEN USING OTHER PEOPLE'S DISHES, LINENS and FURNITURE as their own.  Of course the town's going to be BORING ... NO ONE is going to be talking ABOUT ANYTHING ... substantial.

So the two had fled the town as soon as they could for far more excitement, elsewhere, in Prague.  Now they were returning for reasons for which one often returns home even if one doesn't particularly want to: family matters. 

'Cept those family matters were not particularly "pretty either."  Michal's father was dying, but Michal was convinced that his father and his current wife Blanka (played by Jana Pehrová-Krausová [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) had somehow a hand in his psychologically troubled mother's death some years back: She had been in and out of psychiatric institutions for years, but despite having Blanca as a mistress, Michal's father had never divorced her.  Then Michal's mother had been found, drowned at a boating pier by a (lovely) local reservoir.  But she also showed signs of possibly being strangled.  But perhaps she tried to hang herself first, and when that didn't work, went out to the reservoir to drown herself ... or ... maybe "she was helped / pushed / etc."  In any case, Blanca moved into Michal's father's flat quite soon after her death...  Now, some years later, Michal's dad was dying (of cancer) as well.

Michal's coming back home, because "that's what you do, when one of your parents is ill" but he has very little to say to his dying dad and even less to say to his dad's second wife.  Adam has even less interest to return to a town that he really disdained, but is coming along because "that's what you do, when your friend is in a tough time" to support Michal.  Much, sometimes funny / increasingly not, ensues ...

But isn't it all so krásno (beautiful) here ... where "nothing ever happens"?

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