Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Walking too Fast (orig. Pouta) [2009]

Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD.cz listing - [Cz orig / Eng Trans]

Walking too fast (orig. Pouta) directed by Radim Spaček [CSFD, Eng-trans] screenplay by Ondřej Štindl played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago as part of the 2012 New Czech Films Tour organized by the Czech Film Center and the Czech Consulates in Chicago and New York.  (The tour promises to visit 8 major cities in the United States including New York, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Washington D.C. and Seattle).

Note to readers: As many of you would know from previous reviews, I am of Czech descent.  However, it's in good part on account of the legacy of Czechoslovakian film-making, notably that of the Czechoslovak New Wave of the 1960s (that arguably helped bring about the Prague Spring in 1968 and the subsequent Soviet invasion to crush it) that I grew-up in a family that enjoyed and talked about movies.  Further since the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 in the Velvet Revolution (led in large part by artists), Prague has become not just home to a native film industry but a favored location for Hollywood film-making.  Tours like this, no doubt, are promotional attempts by the Czech government / film-industry to keep things this way.  Still, Czech-American though I am, I do believe that the Czech and Slovak film industries objectively do have a legacy worth indulging and so ... on with the review here ;-)

Walking too fast (orig. Pouta), a winner of three Czech Lions [CZ, Eng-Trans] (the Czech equivalent of the Academy Awards) is set in Czechoslovakia during the later part of the Communist era.  The film is a study of the effect of power on even the individual police officers tasked with maintaining an authoritarian regime _and_ the limits of power in any case.

Antonín (played by Ondřej Malý [CSFD, Eng-trans]) an ethnic Czech, who nonetheless had been born in the countryside prior to moving to the city (presumably Prague) is a member of the State Security Service, the StB [CZ, Eng-Trans].  Along with his Slovakian partner Martin (played by Lukaš Latinák [CSFD, Eng-Trans]) who thus was also presumably not from Prague but grew-up in the more rural eastern, Slovakian part of the country, are tasked with watching Tomáš (played by Martin Finger [CSFD, Eng-Trans]) a not particularly important dissident writer.

It's rather boring work.  Yet both Antonin and Martin certainly believe in the value/importance of what they are doing.  They've been told by their higher-ups that they are doing this for the good of the working class / nation and they believe it.

Indeed, both Antonin and Martin resent Tomáš.  After all, they both came from the countryside, both had "honest jobs" in their minds (and in the ideology that they were sworn to defend) defending other "honest working people" from hippie/elitist purposefully unemployed "parasites" like him. For Tomáš is unemployed because as a dissident -- one opposing the regime -- he can't hold a job in his declared profession, writing (The Regime won't publish his writings, because he's choosing to write things opposed to the Regime).  But he's not working anywhere else, instead choosing to take the lowest possible state-mandated dole.  (In American terms, he's "on welfare.")  In one of the scenes in the movie, the two pick-up Tomáš and drive him to a quarry at the outskirts of the city and briefly dump him outside of it telling him: "Why don't you take a real job among those who work here?"  But as a dissident, he's arguably "striking," holding-out for the right to write (and have published) what he pleases.  So there's the battle ...

Note here: Actually most dissidents did work, usually doing the most menial jobs in society.  The future Cardinal Miloslav Vlk [CZ, Eng-Trans], for instance, worked as a window washer for years during the Communist dictatorship.  The future President of the Republic, playwright Václav Havel, stoked furnaces.  Other dissidents washed toilets of the Prague subway systems.  This was not by choice, but rather pretty much the only jobs that they were allowed to do.  (And yet, they had to work somewhere, so as _not_ to be labeled "parasites").  So it might be an exaggeration that Tomáš would have done nothing or have chosen to do nothing.   However, from the point of view of the enforcers / "believers" of the Communist system, dissidents were basically spoiled "ingrates" who refused to appreciate "all that the Socialist paradise was giving them.")

However, what really sets Antonin off is that this (again, in his mind) lazy, no good, elitist parasite, Tomáš, finds himself a girlfriend, a young rather attractive Slovakian transplant (again presumably from the countryside) named Klára (played by Kristína Farkašová [CSFD, Eng-trans] who's working in a factory in town.  What does she see in him?  Besides, that low-life purposefully unemployed elitist writer already has a strikingly beautiful and doting wife while he chooses to "play dissident!"  And it's true, Silvia (played by Barbora Milotová [CSFB, Eng Trans]) is holding the family together, working (if I remember correctly in a school as either a teacher or a nurse), and taking care of their kids, while the unemployed Tomáš "plays dissident" and now even cavorts with a cute red-headed Slovakian factory-worker who has to be 10-15-20 years younger than he is.  How could that be?  Why should that be?  Yet such have been artists, writers and musicians across all the ages -- often penniless, difficult to live with and to a _lot of people_ seemingly unbearably lazy.  Yet across the ages, they've _always_ been ... attractive.  How is _that_ fair? ;-)

So Antonin decides that he's not going to let this stand.  After all, he may be a short, balding, 40+ year old and actually also with a kind, soft-spoken, lovely and doting wife (played by Monika Fingerová).  But Antonin's comparing himself to the "lowlife" Tomáš.  It's HE, Antonin, who has an "honest job" and "a badge."  And yes, his particular kind of badge (he works for State Security) gives him an awful lot of clout.  No one, and I mean, NO ONE in his/her right mind would challenge his authority when he's carrying _that kind of a badge_ (for fear of getting themselves needlessly in trouble with "State Security"...)  But then is that kind of power _enough_ to "get the girl"?  And once he starts using his power for personal ends ... what happens to whatever "honesty" was in his work?  Welcome to the rest of the movie...

It all makes for a fascinating movie, and to be honest, as I've written this review, I've probably gotten more "into the head" of Antonin than I'm particularly comfortable with.   And truthfully, the film does not portray the moral life of the dissidents particularly well either.  On the other hand, that's the beauty of freedom.  In freedom, the hope is that one can truly tell a story that's truly painted in shades of grey.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice review with interesting details that escaped me here in Norwich UK where WALKING TOO FAST finally played at Cinema City last night. I had difficulty in understanding Tomas (as you rightly pinpoint) and thought that Antonin was the most fully-realized character, so much so that he becomes a metaphor for the system: he is a risk to any citizen but he is also a threat to the system.