Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kawasaki's Rose

KAWASAKI’S ROSE                                      B                     
Czech Republic  (100 mi)  2009  ‘Scope  d:  Jan Hrebejk

Thank God somewhere on earth they continue to shoot using real film, as it’s positively thrilling to see a gorgeous looking movie, something that may as well be preserved in a time capsule, as they’re becoming such a rare commodity these days.  This is a throwback to an old school style of filmmaking, where mature acting and an intelligent story is a prerequisite, though one wonders about the underlying message, whether it’s a fictionalized story or whether writer Petr Jarchovský is targeting someone specific within the Czech historical elite, where one immediately thinks of the highly decorated Václav Havel, a political dissident who after spending a good deal of time in prison under the Communist regime became his new nation’s first President.  Martin Huba plays Pavel, a distinguished aristocrat, a former dissident who is now a revered and respected psychiatrist, approached by a young team of television journalists who wish to interview him at his country home for the record.  What appears to be routine escalates into something of a smear campaign, led by Pavel’s son-in-law Ludek (Milan Mikulcík), who has been sleeping with his blond film crew member Radka (Petra Hrebícková) for over a year while his sick spouse Lucie (Lenka Vlasáková) has been attempting to find answers for what she suspects is stomach cancer.  Ludek has an inferiority complex around Pavel, always suspecting he disapproved of the marriage because Ludek’s father was a lowly Communist police agent.  But as soon as Lucie finally receives the news that she doesn’t have cancer, but something benign yet hard to diagnose, Ludek springs the news to her about his wayward philandering, even bringing in Radka in an absurd face to face discussion preaching a Siddhartha-like Buddhist need for forgiveness that winds up getting Ludek thrown out on his rear.  Good riddance.  But he becomes a focal point in the film, as he has personal reasons for ruining Pavel’s public reputation, driven by his own hatred for the man, thinking he acts so pious and so high and mighty.  In reality, however, this taints Ludek’s motives, giving the appearance that his methods come from the gutter, as he’s constantly seen behind the scenes rubbing his hands in relish, willing to resort to any means to gleefully bring this man down. 

Bearing in mind that this would likely receive an entirely different reaction in the West than the Czech Republic, as this would be like raising similar moral charges against JFK or Martin Luther King, revered historical icons who suffered these same kinds of gutter allegations when they were alive, so a Westerner’s view would immediately be suspect of the sudden discovery of incriminating evidence, a secret file with historical implications suggesting Pavel cooperated with the Communists in getting a fellow artist, Borek (Antonin Kratochvil), a rival suitor to Pavel’s eventual wife, deported permanently out of the country.  As it turns out, Pavel’s wife was pregnant at the time with Borek’s child, making him Lucie’s real father, a man exiled to Gothenburg, Sweden who hasn’t been seen or heard from in thirty years.  But in Eastern European countries, they’re familiar with the Communist method of spying on their own citizens, where the presence of such files could almost always guarantee compliance, where few could withstand the harassment of repeated arrests and tortuous interrogations.  The question is who is the driving force behind the release of the files?  Lucie is starting to denounce Pavel as well, having read the specifics of the case, where in a seemingly beneficial manner, Pavel routinely held dissidents shielded as psychiatric patients away from the police during the days of the Communist era in order to protect them against political interrogations.  But one of those men was Borek, whose hospital file was allegedly handed over to the secret police, certainly damning evidence if true.  The question is whether the same dark forces that compiled the files would be willing to fabricate suppressed evidence even after the establishment of a democratic republic?  It is here that the family suspicions match the unraveling secrets of the nation. 

Lucie and her pink haired, pierced and punkish looking teenage daughter Bára (Anna Simonová), easily one of the bright points in the film, seen hilariously stuffing herself with chocolate candy bars before being run out of a corner shop by a family of Asian owners, eventually set sail for Gothenburg to meet their long lost “real” father and grandfather.  The Swedish scenes are luminously shot by Martin Sácha, showing a thriving port city where the giant ships at sea move in and out of the harbors, sailing under immense bridges, offering a stunning landscape given especially rich textures, where the bright and thriving colors are a direct contrast to the drab colors of Eastern Europe.  Borek is living with a fellow Japanese artist, Mr. Kawasaki (Isao Onoda), a painfully shy and secretive man who paints flowers, but hasn’t painted since he lost his family to the sarin gas attack massacre in the Tokyo subway.  They make an interesting pair of abandoned exiles, but greet their newly discovered family warmly, again a sharp contrast to the contemptuous superiority exhibited in a simultaneous camera interview of a former secret police investigator Kafka (Lasislav Chudik), the man behind Borek’s alleged torture and deportation.  He calmly and proudly displays the kind of arrogance of men in his position, an officer whose role was to routinely break the spirits and physical stamina of dissident prisoners.  The film makes reference to Charter 77, a wide ranging group of artists and dissidents who in the late 1980’s signed in solidarity against the dictatorship, including Václav Havel, thus becoming targets of the government.  While the questions raised are potent, to be sure, and historically relevant, as there are likely many established heroes who collaborated with the enemy, the melodramatic flourish of the finale wraps things up all too easily.  Much more impressive are the film’s dark elements, the unanswered moral quandaries, where the characters are scrambling around for the truth, literally forced to defy all that they formerly knew, where pockets of confusion blur the line between memory and history.  Excerpts from Handel’s opera Ariodante, a searing melodrama of betrayal and false accusations, play over the end credits.    

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