Czech film revisits communist secrets

Wed Jul 7, 2010 10:03pm EDT
 
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By Stephen Farber

TAORMINA, Sicily (Hollywood Reporter) - The misdeeds of the communist era, chronicled so memorably in the Oscar-winning German film, "The Lives of Others," continue to stimulate gifted filmmakers.

The latest example is the Czech film, "Kawasaki's Rose," which examines some of the repressive policies of the secret police in Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and '70s. While this film won't match the box office success of "Lives of Others," it will appeal to older audiences weaned on foreign films.

Director Jan Hrebejk, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2000 film, "Divided We Fall," sets most of his story in the present day, when a documentary crew is celebrating the life of Pavel (Martin Huba), a revered professor and psychiatrist, who is being honored for his resistance to the tyrannical Communist regime. During their investigation, however, the crew discovers a darker secret in Pavel's past. His entire family is upended by the revelations.

All of the characters are drawn with complexity by screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky, who has worked with Hrebejk on other films. There are no simple villains here. Even Pavel's surly, philandering son-in-law, Ludek (Milan Mikulcik), who has always felt despised by the intellectual professor, harbors understandable resentments.

The filmmakers are aided by fine performances. Huba conveys imperiousness along with a measure of hard-earned wisdom. Veteran actress Daniela Kolarova has several searing moments as Pavel's fiercely loyal wife, who is concealing her own painful secrets. One of the strongest performances comes from Lenka Vlasakova as the couple's daughter, who is most shattered by the discoveries she makes about her father. Petra Hrebickova, as the couple's punky, pink-haired granddaughter, and Antonin Kratochvil, as a sculptor with a surprise connection to the family, add rowdy humor to the agonized drama.

Although the film is well crafted, it sometimes seems more like a stage play than a truly cinematic drama. The picture relies on talking heads rather than fluent visual effects. Nevertheless, some eloquent close-ups call to mind the penetrating interpersonal moments in Ingmar Bergman films.

Once the mysterious significance of the title has been revealed, the film ends on a bitterly ironic note, suggesting that the sins of the past may be forgotten, but they should never be forgiven.