Czech Republic

The Country Teacher

Country TeacherVenkovský Ucitel

Bohdan Slama :: Czech Republic :: 2009 :: 1h57

The introverted Petr (Pavel Listka) arrives in a little Czech village to take the job of biology teacher at the local school. As Petr was raised in a teachers’ family in Prague, we are led to wonder what he is looking for, or running from, in this secluded corner of the world. Contrary to expectation, he seems to be finding a place for himself. Again, contrary to expectation, it is all a little more perverse than you might expect.

As in director Slama’s previous film, Something Like Happiness, the weight of depression looms over the characters. But it is not an unhappiness provoked by external factors (of say a job or poverty) but rather by the passions of the characters themselves. They are pushed in a direction which is not necessarily the “right” direction for them, and at the expense of themselves or others. Ridicule is no obstacle for the drunken suitor of the cow herder Maria, nor is humiliation for the young lover Lada. The characters do not have a self-control over their passions, falling victim to irrational needs which separate the civilized from the brutes. We could been tempted to attribute their lack of self-control to their provinciality, but our guide in this remote world, the educated Petr himself, is no stranger to weakness.

As we watch the story unfold amongst the birds and the bees, making up our minds as to why Petr is in that village and gaining an understanding of the side characters, I can not help but feel that the whole tragedy remains unconvincing. It is the great challenge of literature and cinema to render improbable relationships credible, but when you lift yourself out of the tale to calibrate, the discord becomes apparent. Or maybe we should ask ourselves if pardon should really be the pinnacle of love? A captivating movie with a few rough edges which does not completely win its bet. But you do get a tender insiders view on the loneliness and camaraderie of country life… if you want it.


Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Martin Campbell :: UK / USA / Czech Republic :: 2006 :: 2h18

Obtaining his 007-status, James Bond becomes a full agent of MI6, the British secret service. His first mission is to try to dismantle an informal banking service to terrorists. The banker has a taste for gambling, so Bond puts on his tuxedo and sets off for a Casino in Montenegro accompanied by a beautiful representative of the Treasury, played by Eva Green. The plot does not actually follow the series, but never mind that (it’s set after the cold war!).

The first Bond movie with Daniel Craig in the lead role clearly sets out a new route. From the outset, we are presented by a violent chase scene followed by a ruthless disregard of life, property and diplomatic relations. By the time the title and opening credits show up, the traditional female form has, disappointingly, been replaced by animated scenes of violence (?!). There can no longer be any mistake that the 21st episode of the Bond series plans a change of direction. One peculiar choice is that Bond became a lot less British and a lot more like an All American Action Hero. The loss of character will be lamented but has also allowed some character development, which is rare in Bond movies. But the greatest moment of change, to my mind, occurs when a bartender asks Bond of he wants his drink ‘Shaken or stirred’, to which Bond dryly responds: ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’ A nice touch.

Although the start is somewhat worrying, the movie quickly takes a turn for the better with a spectacular chase through a building site. A masterfully made scene which creates quite a bit of goodwill to survive some of the more tedious ones, most notably the excessively long card game with silly explanations thrown in. Perhaps it is surprising that the end result is so entertaining, as there are plenty more imperfections scattered around: including an unnecessary, unappealing torture scene, Bond being miraculously saved by his leading lady and some silly product placements (the best one would be the family car Bond takes from the airport in Nassau). But that all should not put you off, there is plenty left to keep you going, which I will not ruin by spelling them out.

It might take a bit of getting used to a Bond who is more of a blue-collar killer (who calls his dead leading lady a ‘bitch’) rather than the sophisticated, gentlemanly secret agent we were used to, but why not change the rules. The new Bond, with a powerful M as his boss, is ready to affront the fictional challenges of the 21st century. Do not hesitate to go in to see the introduction of the re-invented James Bond to decide for yourselves.

Something like happiness

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Bohdan Slama :: Czech Republic :: 2005 :: 1h40

Generous but impractical young man, in love with his childhood friend, is brought to building a short life together with her through circumstance before she leaves to follow her fiancé abroad. These circumstances are taking care of two little boys of their mutual friend who could no longer cope psychologically. Their lives unfold in a run-down poverty stricken suburb with a view of a smoke-puffing plant. An environment which does not make matters any easier. But the movie is not about industrial society which can hand out technological gadgets nobody really needs but not enough jobs and all the misery which comes forth from that. The enigmatic title hints that their bitter surroundings and strong social bonds may both play a part in their constructing of their lives, as happy people. Their predicaments somewhat push them further in their lives, as they try to attain happiness, but it is still hard to see them actually getting there. Unfortunately the overall work is too depressing for my taste, making it a tough cookie to swallow.