Dir: Ole Christian Madsen. Den.2006. 92mins.
Danish film-maker Ole Christian Madsen plunges onceagain into the darker recesses of marital life for Prague, a powerful drama in which his strong direction and the overwhelmingperformances that he draws smooth over some of the script's inconsistencies.
Madsen, whose earlier drama Kira's Reason (2001) dealt with similarmaterial and was also highly praised, again works from an original script,casting Stine Stengade from that film in the female lead(although Mads Mikkelsenreplaces his brother Lars, who previously played opposite her).
Prague'simpact rests mainly in the tremendously effective manner in which eachindividual scene is handled, as the camera bores down inside the souls of its twoprotagonists to unveil doubts, yearnings and hopes never entirely made explicitin the dialogue.
Critics may fault someaspects of the script, but festivals will know that here they have two seriouscandidates for any best acting awards at their events; if Trust plays its cardsright then wider commercial gains are probable, for many arthouseaudiences will be touched by the characters on-screen.
Christoffer (Mikkelsen), a stuffy,dour, unbending Danish lawyer in his early forties, goes to Prague to retrievethe body of his estranged father, who died there. It is an act he isundertaking less through filial devotion - he passionately hates the old man,who left home when his son was 12, re-emerging only once three years later -more because his dead mother never stopped loving him.
Christoffer's wife Maja (Stengade) has come along to provide moral support, but is havingdifficulty in coping because her husband has discovered her secret affair andconfronted her about it. Rapidly, after 14 years of marriage, everything isfalling apart, including the foundations of a life based on undisclosed darksecrets.
There is a growing abyssseparating the couple by the time they reach Prague: Christofferis ever more locked into his brooding, sombre moods, while Majais losing sight of the man she married, growing ever more gloomy and depressed stucknext to him - until she grabs the first acceptable alternative who comes along.
Prague also forces open thedoor into Christoffer's past and his relationshipwith his father, whose existence he pretended to deny throughout his adultlife. Now he is forced to learn more about this man he abhorred, and about thelife that his dad made for himself after leaving his wife and son. Every newrevelation throws Christoffer deeper into the turmoilthat started when, as a child, he somehow felt guilty for his parents split; itis a self-hatred that has now evolved into a fear that he, as an adult, maybecome the sort of father he himself despised.
Madsen and his cast do agreat job of exploring the story's many themes, the only slightly jarring notesbeing several heavy-handed attempts at levity that are more often than not outof tune with the context.
But one has to question thechoice of Prague for the piece's setting. Certainly it has very little to do withthe actual drama; any other city with a culture and language different from thefilm-maker's could have been used, making the travelogue elements inserted intothe second half somewhat superfluous.
Using ancient Praguecemeteries, that have now become shrines, as the background for explicitlyverbal descriptions of sexual acts also comes close to sacrilegious - and onehas to question what dramatic justification there is for their inclusion.
Mads Mikkelsen, who already displayed his potential in such intensedramas as Open Hearts, acquitshimself admirably in the more difficult part here, conveying all the complexityof a tormented soul bottled into the appearance of a cold, perfectly controlledpersonality.
Stine Stengademovingly plays Maja as a warm, vibrant woman whotries until the last moment to keep alive the marriage, despite being pushedaway by a man who still loves her but is incapable of expressing his feelings.
Probing camerawork from JorgenJohansson's doesn't miss a beat, whether in the semi-darkness of hotel rooms orin the full daylight of Prague's squares. Jonas Struck'ssoundtrack offers effective support throughout.
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Ole Christian Madsen
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