Dir: Vladimir Michalek. Czech Republic. 2000. 100mins.

A drug induced fantasy that mixes horror and comedy without being either, Vladimir Michalek's Angel Exit is a film that makes its impact with a mosaic of images, sights and sounds that appeal to all five senses. Based on the popular novel of the same name by Jachym Topol this is love story about two drug-addicted youths who escape the decaying, post-industrial back streets of Prague to a world that is as much hallucination as it is reality. Already a box-office hit in the Czech Republic, the film's cutting edge look and fashionably attractive young cast should appeal to the youth market internationally although like any non-English language film it will face a tough sell to attract more than arthouse distribution.

Michalek's Prague will come as a shock to audiences used to seeing this beautiful city as a backdrop for numerous Hollywood period productions. Set in the teaming, semi-derelict neighbourhood of Prague's Smichov district, the film opens with a gypsy child stabbing a local shopkeeper, which is intercut with the traditional bloody Christmas butchery of live carp on the streets. Shabby tinsel decorations in the shop windows only make the seasonal celebration seem more morbid. Mikes (Cechticky) is a thirtysomething down-and-out, who lives in the semi-ruined neighbourhood along with a collection of pimps, religious fanatics and freaks. A former drug addict trying to go straight he believes that he can get his life together when he meets and falls in love with his neighbour Jana (Stivinova). But his drug-addicted friends Lukas (Pavlicek) and the dangerously seductive Kaja (Issova) have other ideas and lure him back into the world of drug-induced hallucinations and depravity, where colourful dreams contrast sharply with the drab grayness of Smichov.

Mikes and Kaja brew up a super drug called Czecho and embark for Africa on a magical trip where reality merges with a drugged euphoria that turns into a nightmare. Unable to remember the formula for the new superdrug Mikes runs into trouble with the local gangsters he has agreed to supply and is forced to flee to Prague but he cannot escape. Still hounded by addicts lusting after the secret formula that produces the ultimate high, he discovers in a moment rich with metaphor that the missing ingredient is his own blood, the only thing that gives the superdrug its magical power.

Michalek shot the film chroniologically on digital video using a skeleton crew, giving it a rough, spontaneous look and helter-skelter feel. At its best the film is poetic, as in its opening scenes when it portrays the life of the teeming streets with visceral images of blood and dead fish; at its worst it becomes lost in its own surfeit of fantasy such as the sequences in Africa which make little dramatic and border on silliness when Mikes and Klara are on the run from the unconvincing gangsters. An ambitious but uneven film that achieves much of what it sets out to do, Angel Exit brings the black humour and morbid power of Topol's story of a decaying, post-industrial world with its own morality to life.

Prod co: Buc-Film
Czech dist: Falcon Film
Int'l sales: Buc-Film
Prod: Jaroslav Boucek
Cinematography: Martin Strba
Scr: Vladimir Michalek, Jachym Topol
Ed: Jiri Brozek
Music: Jan Cechticky, Yarda Helesic
Main cast: Jan Cechticky, Klara Issova, Zuzana Stivinaova, Vojtech Pavlicek