Beauty in Trouble
2006, NR, 110 min. Directed by Jan Hřebejk. Starring Aňa Geislerová, Jana Brejchová, Roman Luknár, Emilia Vášáryová, Josef Abrhám, Jiří Schmitzer, Adam Mišík, Michaela Mrviková.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 3, 2009
No matter how bad you may have it, you'll feel better about your own lot in life after watching the tumultuous sexual flailings of Marcela and Jarda (Brejchová and Luknár), a way, way, way down on their luck Czech couple whose only pleasure in life comes from unpredictable bouts of enthusiastic sex which erupt like little volcanoes beneath a shared life otherwise strewn with the flotsam and jetsam of disaffection, dismay, and despair. Having survived the ruinous flooding of their Prague home in 2002, the pair – along with their asthmatic son, Kuba (Mišík), and daughter, Lucina (Mrviková) – currently reside with Marcela's mother and her creepily hypersexual stepfather, Richard (Schmitzer), a character as oily as the filthy floor of the illegal chop shop where Jarda and his hulking associates spend their days deconstructing the automobiles they boosted the previous night. It's not much of a life: Marcela and Jarda's quarreling is near-constant, and the short-tempered Jarda has a way of taking to the cupboards with an axe when his frustrations redline. When one of Jarda's "grim theft auto" escapades lands him in jail, Marcela finds herself sitting in the booking station's dingy waiting room beside a far older, professorial type by the name of Evžen (Abrhám), who, in one of those nifty cinematic twists of fate that contemporary European cinema pivots upon (in much the same way Hollywood subsists on slow-motion fireballs), turns out to be the owner of the purloined car. He's also a wealthy winemaker with an expansive villa in Tuscany, and when he offers the patently sensual, emotionally overwhelmed Marcela a chance for her and her children to escape their misery (at least for a little while, while the divorce proceedings with Jarda go through), she takes it. For now. On the face of it, there's little that's beautiful in Marcela's life, but Marcela herself commits an act of beauty with every weary, graceful, and sexy movement of her slight frame; her eye-rolling by itself could inflame the pope to ecstatic heights of carnality (venal or otherwise). Taken literally, the title feels like a too-obvious pun, but Hřebejk, working from a variegated, emotionally shifting script by Petr Jarchovský, itself based on a Robert Graves poem, is a master of confounding both his characters' and viewers' expectations in a loopy way which comes off just bizarrely enough to be probable. Water imagery, gentle eddies, and battering rapids permeate the permanently stormy beauty of Hřebejk's film. It's as good a metaphor as any for the buoying aspects of love (good, bad, or ugly) and sex (ditto), when human beings find themselves suddenly confronted with the impending permanence of their own oblivion. When you've lost everything else, why not go bang? It worked for the universe. It might work for you, too.