Dir: Jan Hrebejk. Czech Rep. 2006. 110mins.
Film-maker Jan Hrebejkreturns with Beauty In Trouble,another chronicle about the morality of his Czech compatriots as they crossfrom the vestiges of their recent totalitarian past to the best of the West.Inspired by a Robert Graves poem about a beauty saved by an angelic presence, Hrebejk and his regular scriptwriter PetrJarchovsky relay their concerns through the story ofa modern Prince Charming who returns to Prague to rescue the disgruntled wifeof a delinquent car mechanic.
A bittersweet romanticsocial satire that opens with one funeral and ends with another, it showcasesCzech favourite Ana Geislerova at her best as the centreof this political and romantic merry-go-round. Yet as carefully structured as Beauty In Trouble isto include all of Hrebejk's jabs at his countrymen'sfailings, it risks overstaying its welcome, and serious pruning of loose endsand unnecessary repetition is necessary to help it beyond home. Festivals, onthe other hand, will be no problem. The film competed at KarlovyVary.
Ruined by the floods whichplagued the Czech Republic several years ago, Jaroslav(Luknar) has fallen on hard times and bad company,fixing stolen cars for resale. His wife Marcela can't stand it and moves withher two kids to her mother Zdenka (Brejchova), despite the less than enthusiastic receptionfrom her grumpy retired stepfather Risa (Schmitzer).
At the same time Benes (Abrham), a Czechexpatriate who left home in 1967 and lives on vineyards he inherited inTuscany, returns to Prague to claim the house the communists took from hisfamily. But while he has legal rights to the property, he still has to evictthe woman who lives there with her moribund mother.
Inevitably, Benes comes into contact with Marcela and she is invited tothe classic lavish dinner. It is soon followed by the predictable gifts, untilshe is willing to forego the fabulous sex she has at least enjoyed with herhusband for a less passionate life of luxury and leisure in Italy (although theending hints that Marcela can still keep all her options open).
Beauty In Trouble is supposed to be a kind of modern fairytale and insuch work lapses in logic should not be taken too seriously. But even afairytale needs to be consistent within its own structure and the script hereis not as it labours to put some magic into everyday life.
Still, Hrebejk'scomments on modern life are adroitly introduced and duly spiced with rich Czechflavour, touching on topics such as how the oldcommunist mentality has been replaced by sheer, unadulterated greed orreligious mania to Czech male arrogance and how truth is now treated as asuperfluous commodity.
Performances vary from Emilia Vasaryova's over-the-tophistrionics as Jaroslav's mother to Jana Brejchova's resourceful granny smartly handling Jiri Schmitzer's coolly spitefulstep-father. Meanwhile Geislerova is at her sexiest,holding the whole picture together and striking just the right tone as a modernwoman who knows exactly on which side her bread is buttered. Josef Abrham's benign Benes is oftentoo good to be true, as the script repeatedly drums home.
Hrebejk's hand as a director is more effective when dealingwith sarcasm than emotions, and the soundtrack, replete with sentimentalAmerican ballads may feel too transparent for comfort. But it does at leastexemplify the Western invasion of Czech mores, one of Hrebejk'sthemes.