Saturday, June 4, 2016

Chasing Fifty (orig. Padesátka) [2015]

MPAA (R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* (V. Staňková) review* (M. Spáčilová) review*

Chasing Fifty (orig. Padesátka) [2015] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed by Vojtěch Kotek [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*, screenplay by Petr Kolečko [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*, story by Vojtěch Kotek [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* and Jakub Prachař [IMDb] [FDB]*) is a technically excellent (if by nature of its genre, necessarily morally dubious ... :-) or :-/ ) almost "Seth Rogan"-like Czech "slacker comedy" that OPENED the 2016 Czech That Film Tour playing this month at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center.

The film takes place in the context of a fictionalized annual "Three Kings / Epiphany" 50K Cross Country Ski Race held at the quite famous (in the C.R.) Czech ski resort town of Špindlerův Mlýn on the Czech side of the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* separating Czech Bohemia from modern Polish Silesia.  (I say fictionalized because the actual race takes place in the Jizerské Mts [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* 50-75 miles to the West, but Špindlerův Mlýn has similar races / activities during the whole winter season and is certainly the more famous resort town).

Now Readers note that prior to WW II the region on both sides of the Czech and now Polish border was inhabited primarily by ethnic Germans who were expelled from their lands (again on both sides of the border) after WW II.  Note also though that both Bohemia and Silesia were once (and during the Middle Ages for centuries) under the Czech Crown.  Further, the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* have had a special place in Czech consciousness as basically _its_ "true mountains" and  _its_ "true wilderness" that long predated WW II.

Indeed, the tale of the tragic deaths of two famous Czech cross-country skiers Bohumil Hanč [cs.wikip]* and Václav Vrbata [cs.wikip]* (in a late winter storm back in 1913 (! ;-) in the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* is recalled to this day with the same (perhaps even hokey) reverence by Czechs as the "Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald [YouTube]"[wikip] is recalled in the United States.  It was a tragedy, but ... (Indeed, there appears even a shot of the memorial [wikip] to these two fallen skiers up there in the mountains near the end of this film ... ;-)

And the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* were the site of the probably all but impregnable fortess that (half-by-legend) was going to be the site of the Czechs "Alamo-like" last stand if the 1938 Sudeten Crisis had indeed led to war.  It would have probably been pointless as the rest of the country probably would have been overrun, but THERE in those mountains they (WE) probably would have held out for a long time -- a Czech Masada.  I'm not kidding ...

ALL THIS IS TO SAY THAT the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* MEAN A HECK OF A LOT TO THE CZECHS ;-)

BUT ... the significance of the Krkonoše [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* was _not_ simply one of Tortured Defense / Tragedy.

Especially during the Communist Era when Czechs (behind the Iron Curtain) couldn't really go anywhere else anyway THESE mountains (and then "ski resort towns" like Špindlerův Mlýn in particular) became places for young people to go "on break" (if not really on "Spring Break" then on "Winter Break") -- YES, ALMOST EXACTLY IN THE SAME SPIRIT as American students would go to Ft. Lauderdale or more recently to Cancún "on spring break" today (And it is different for Czech young people today as well.  Most of my younger Czech relatives now "save up" to go to Northern Italy to ski in the winter and/or to Croatia, Italy again or Egypt to go to the beach in the summer).  But the Krkonoše Mountains [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* and then specifically Špindlerův Mlýn remain good local alternatives to Czechs (like perhaps Lake Placid in the Adirondacks or "Vermont" in general would be to New Yorkers today) for winter fun.

SO THIS IS THEN, FINALLY, WHAT THIS FILM IS ABOUT -- It's largely about Czechs "on both sides of 50" who've come to Špindlerův Mlýn to participate in (or now watch...) an annual 50K Cross Country Skiing Race around "Epiphany Time" (at the tail end of Winter / Christmas Break) and then to recall what it was like "back in the day" when they were young, perhaps skiing that race (with better times) and then focusing on "all the hormone driven action" that inevitably followed. 

That's how this film becomes "a well made Czech 'Seth Rogan'-like 'slacker' movie."  And really the film is quite good, for what it is.  AND MANY, MANY AMERICAN VIEWERS would actually be quite surprised to see just how "American" ("just like us...") the CZECH characters in this film are.

And that's not a bad thing to remember ... as we are all after all people, "created by the same God."

Anyway, while certainly _not_ an "instruction manual" on good moral living.  But it does offer a rather fun, indeed effervescent way to start this year's Czech That Film Tour ;-)

(More or less... ;-) good job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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