• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (13/11/2020)

(An overview of the 24th Made in Prague Czech Film Festival)


The Czech Centre has teamed up with Vimeo on Demand to ensure that the 24th edition of the Made in Prague film festival can go ahead. Running between 1-30 November, the On/Off programme was also due to play at the Riverside Studios in London, but one suspects that lockdown has put paid to this. Nevertheless, the online slate means that viewers from across the country can be part of an event that has been a highlight of the autumnal screen calendar for almost a quarter of a century.


The festival has teamed up with its Polish counterpart, Kinoteka, to present the UK premiere of Agnieszka Holland's Charlatan, a biopic of self-taught Czech healer Jan Mikolášek that has been chosen as the Czech entry for the 2020 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Ivan Trojan plays the herbalist who cured millions with his remedies, including Czechoslovakian president, Antonin Zápotocký, before he fell foul of the Communist authorities after strychnine was found in the bodies of two men he had treated.


In addition, the festival is also championing a study of clashing cultures and personalities that raises countless questions about what John Grierson once called `the creative treatment of reality'. Shooting started on The Painter and the Thief as soon as Benjamin Ree finished profiling Norway's world chess champion in Magnus (2016). But there's no comparison between the two studies, as Ree plays fast and loose with the documentary rubric in chronicling the relationship that develops between Oslo-based Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, the tattooed junkie who stole two of her outsize paintings from an exhibition. Shifting perspective to show both sides of the story (and incorporate insights into Kysilkova's marriage to Øystein Stene), this consciously calculating non-linear treatease [sic] is almost as audacious as the heist that inspired it.


Parents looking for something to keep the kids busy during Lockdown 2 might want to check out Alexandra Májová and Katerina Karhánková's animation, Hungry Bear Tales. Nedved is a serious-minded character, who reads books, watches television and surfs the Internet. Mishka is only interested in stories about other bears. But, when it comes to food, Nedved and Mishka are on the same page and their search for goodies for their tummies should amuse children between the ages of three and eight, who are invited to participate in an online art workshop and create their own Picnic with Bears picture.


ALCHEMICAL FURNACE.


The fabled Czech animator, Jan Švankmajer, retired from features after completing Insects (2018), a quirky take on Karel and Josel Capek's stage play, The Life of the Insects (1924) that also incorporates `making of' footage filmed by the Slovakian documentarist, Adam Olha. Sadly, the film was barely seen in the UK. But its production enabled Olha and editor Jan Danhel to gain Švankmajer's trust and longtime producer Jaromír Kallista decided to exploit the bond to commission Alchemical Furnace, a chronicle of the great man's career and a last behind-the-scenes peak at the workings of his Athanor company.


Opening with a black-and-white snapshot of Jan Švankmajer and his wife, Eva, looking young and foolishly optimistic, the 84 year-old apologises for the fact that the audience is going to have to put up with a lot of old faces over the next two hours, as nobody makes films about film-makers at the start of their careers. After a brief visit to the set of Insects, we hear Švankmajer extolling the virtues of extreme close-ups, as they don't take long to set up and they trick viewers into thinking they are looking at something significant. A discussion on the subversive merits of Surrealism follows, with a coda about the need for someone outside Švankmajer's circle to see his films before they are released to ensure that they are going to appeal to more than an exclusive coterie.


We accompany him to Horní Stankov to see Švankmajer's famous Cabinet of Curiosities. He explains that he is really an avaricious hoarder who has acquired a degree of respectability by exhibiting his treasures as a collection. Over clips from his films, he also explores the importance of touch and his quest to bring a tactile element to his imagery. As Kallista prepares to go up in a glider, Švankmajer recalls how his mother was so over-protective that it prompted him to run away from home. The producer avers that Eva Švankmajerová also exerted a degree of control over him, as she was an artist in her own right and could be wounding in her criticism of his work. However, he clearly adored her and the fact that her extroversion complemented his own reticence. Consequently, he has not slept in their bed since she died in 2005 and has turned it into an artwork by decorating it with seashells.


Kallista is frustrated by the fact that Švankmajer loses interest in his films the moment he finishes them and is reluctant to accompany them to festivals, even when they are beloved as much as Alice (1988) and Little Otik (2000). He looks decidedly uncomfortable posing for selfies at a screening and would much rather be chewing the fat with the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group. He tells them about his new motorised tricycle, which he keeps crashing because he insists it has a design fault that makes it topple over.


As curators from the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam come to examine possible loan exhibits, Švankmajer shows them Eva's chair and opines that she used her art to vent her spleen at the fact she had been born a woman in a world run by men. She also settled scores with her mother and brothers and Švankmajer suggests she was fortunate in having an outlet for her fury. He claims she was an ambivalent feminist, as she enjoyed her feminine traits, but lamented their worthlessness in addressing gender imbalance and injustice. His work can be equally combative, but it's always rooted in the surreal, whether it's a film, a drawing or a tactile poem.


Švankmajer sets great store by the physical process of making a film and dislikes digital animation because it's too easy to push a button. He reflects upon the fact that a number of his ideas were rejected by the state-controlled industry, but jokes about the fact he has been able to raid the 1970 drawer of his archive for Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), Lunacy (2005) and Insects. During a bookshop signing, he encourages the audience to write down their dreams, as they are a neglected part of one's personality. But he tells another interviewer that he doesn't believe that art evolves or that humankind has developed much emotionally since the Neolithic era. Indeed, he is convinced that our current civilisation has run its course and has little left to offer.


A skinny child who disliked eating and sought refuge from bullies in his imagination, Švankmajer claims to have had no idea how to bring up his own kids and reveals that he and Eva disagreed about things to such an extent that they built a wall down the middle of their house. Yet they muddled through and he takes pride in the fact that he was able create without resort to drunk or drugs. Indeed, Eva remembers how he had manifested signs of schizophrenia when they had tried LSD together and, as a result, he had sworn off all medication, including painkillers.


As the exhibition is painstakingly put together, Švankmajer is asked about bones, death and fetishes and he confides in Olha about the dreams he has about Eva and how he often feels her around. He wonders if he might not make another short, but knows he doesn't have the energy for another feature, as he is diabetic and the morning routines around his insulin and feeding his cat and dog leave him exhausted. As he mooches around his home studio, he describes the breakdown he endured after Eva succumbed to cancer. Such was his state of confusion that he found himself in an asylum similar to the one he had just depicted in Lunacy and he is amused that it was the prospect of doing art therapy that helped him recover his poise.


Eschewing the conventions of the art actuality, this is a non-fawning rattlebag that has been whittled down from hours of footage to present an impression of Jan Švankmajer rather than a portrait. He springs a surprise by sharing his thoughts on Eva and the impact of her loss, as he has avoided the topic for the last 15 years. His frankness carries over into his attitudes to everything from children and audiences to mythology and memory. But, apart from some musings on the importance of infantilism, animism and authenticity, he gives very little away about the making of his films, what he hoped to achieve with them and how he thinks they have held up either side of the 1989 divide.


Notwithstanding such evasiveness, Danhel and Olha manage to coax the mischievously resolute octogenarian into relating the odd anecdote about his private life or the grisly maintenance of his fetishes. In many ways, their film resembles Being a Human Person, Fred Scott's profile of Swedish auteur, Roy Andersson, as both men view the prospect of retirement with dread, as it would force them to confront the mortality they have spent a lifetime avoiding (despite it being front and centre in their work). But Švankmajer leaves the richer legacy.


HAVEL.


Three decades have now passed since the Velvet Revolution and writer-director Slávek Horák places the spotlight on one of its key players in Havel. This biopic takes its share of factual liberties and those seeking a considered historical analysis should seek out Miroslav Janek and Pavel Koutecky's documentary, Citizen Havel (2008). But, in seeking to show how playwright Václav Havel reacted to events within Czechoslovakia in the crucial years of 1968, 1976 and 1989, this represents a decent place to start.


Having smuggled a BBC interviewer (David Penn) to his Hrádecek country retreat in the boot of his car, Václav Havel (Viktor Dvorák) explains that he is a coward by nature, who has been forced to act by an aversion to the clamminess he feels on his skin whenever he knows he is not doing his duty. He thinks back to 1968, when he and fellow writer Pavel Kohout (Stanislav Majer) welcomed reforming First Secretary Alexander Dubcek (Adrian Jastraban) on to the stage after spotting him in the audience at one of his plays. Dubcek is embarrassed by the attention and chides Havel for putting him on a pedestal, but film actor Pavel Landovský (Martin Hofmann) urges his friend to forget the reprimand and go partying with him.


Despite his serial infidelities, Havel is devoted to wife Olga Havlová (Anna Geislerová) and she stands by his decision to refuse to sign a document proffered by the manager of the Theatre of the Absurd to condone the Warsaw Pact occupation of Prague in August. Forced to work during Normalisation at the Krakonoš brewery in Trutnov, Havel writes a play about his experiences that is circulated by samizdat, as he was barred from the stage. Following the trial of the psychedelic rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe, he joins forces with Kohout, Landovský and philosopher Jan Patocka (Jirí Bartoska) to draft Charter 77, a manifesto calling for the upholding of the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution that is immediately denounced as subversive by the ruling Communist Party.


Even though her husband is having an affair with Anna Kohoutová (Barbora Seidlová), Olga stands by him when he is arrested and subjected to several months of interrogation (by Jan Kolarík). She is dismayed by his capitulation, but continues to visit after he is jailed again for forming the Committee For the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted and rejects the Czechoslovak government's offer to start afresh in the United States. Indeed, he spends four years behind bars, while Kahout flees to Vienna.


Having come close to death because of his maltreatment, Havel emerges in 1983 to virtual house arrest. Six years later, however, when he hears news on the radio of the street protests in Prague, he drives to the capital to play his part. As Dubcek had refused to collaborate on Charter 77, Havel feels this disqualifies him from putting his name forward for the presidency and the film ends with him taking Olga's hand on the balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square, as he prepares to speak to the massed throng.


Although he overdoes the device of turning pivotal events into scenes on stage, Horák handles some complex issues with assurance and succeeds in exposing some of Havel's flaws without undermining his intellectual integrity and moral authority. He's abetted here by the excellent Viktor Dvorák, who bears a striking facial resemblance to his character. Anna Geislerová also stands out as Olga, who bears her indignities through a cloud of cigarette smoke, as she states her preference to be her husband's only lady rather than his First Lady.


Jan Stastný's camerawork keeps the viewer at the heart of events and close enough to Havel to read his thoughts, while Petr Malásek's score provides stirring accompaniment. But the key craft contribution is Vladimir Hruska's production design, as the action switches between the prosceniums and prisons that shaped Havel's destiny. What Horák and co-scenarist Rudolf Suchánek recognise is that this self-effacing artist was stung by his conscience into realising that his pen isn't always mightier than the sword and that he needed to take sacrificial action in order to make things change. Their thesis isn't always convincing and contains its share of suppositions and platitudes. Yet this serves as a timely reminder of what the Czech Republic owes to its first president.


MEKY.


The name Miroslav Žbirka may not be readily recognisable to British music fans, the majority of whom probably won't have heard of his stage name, either. But, as documentarist Šimon Šafránek reveals in his fascinating profile, Meky was very much in thrall to the British bands who took the pop scene by storm in the 1960s and channelled their influence into a style that appealed to Czechoslovakian kids without incurring the wrath of the Communist authorities.


Although he was born in Bratislava, Meky was half English, as his father bumped into his mother in a Muswell Hill pub while he was serving with the Czechoslovak air squadron based in Britain during the Second World War. They returned home before the border closed in 1948 and Meky arrived four years later. He was devoted to his older brother, Jason, who perished a year after the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring. But his fascination with combos like The Kinks left a deep impression on Meky, who became a regular at the trendy V-Club in Bratislava.


He got his break, however, at the city's famous Lyre festival, which was run by Peter Horák, who invited Meky's band, Modus, to play `The Smile'. They won first prize and were promptly banned. But, with Ján Lehotský on keyboards, the bespectacled Meky on guitar and Marika Gombitová providing vocals and glamour, they continued to play live until poet Kamil Peteraj persuaded the culture ministry to let them record their first album, Key to the group's success was the contribution of Laco Lucenic, who recalls how Modus broke up because of the clash of egos between Lehotský and Žbirka.


Shortly afterwards, Marika was left in a wheelchair following a car crash and Meky wrote `Love Song' for her after forming his new outfit, Limit. As album sales broke records, Meky was given permission to record export versions in English for RCA. although travel restrictions prevented him from becoming a continental star. At a time when many artists recorded Western hits, Meky insisted on writing his own songs, even though he and co-lyricist Lucenic often found themselves running into the censors who had to approve songs to ensure they weren't subversive. Moreover, they also introduced electronica into Czechoslovakian music in the 1980s and transformed the sound of pop, while increasing his audience abroad. But there was a tension between the pair and it still rankles Lucenic that he was never given enough credit for writing and producing Limit's hits.


We meet Meky's daughter, Denisa, and his second wife, Katka, as he discusses the strains that success has on home life. But he had more time to enjoy his family after the rockier Lucenic grew bored with Meky's supposedly blander pop and Limit went their separate ways. As did Slovakia and the Czech Republic and Žbirka opted to relocate to Prague. He continued to have hits and famously recorded Double Album at Abbey Road with Hamish McAlpine, Robbie McIntosh and Blair Cunningham, who had been part of Paul McCartney's live band and Meky reads their names off the cover of Paul Is Live (1993).


The latter stages of the career are rather rushed and only those already au fait with the self-effacing Meky and his output will be able to read between the lines. They will also be the only ones able to recognise the songs or understand the lyrics, as they are not identified by captions or translated by subtitles. This is frustrating, as it prevents a greater identification with Meky and the music seen and heard in the dozens of old TV clips assembled by editor Šimon Hájek. But Šafránek offers a decent insight into the state of Czechoslovakian music in the 70s and 80s, as well as the rivalry between Žbirka and Lucenic, who is now a panelist on the Slovak version of Pop Idol.


MY FATHER ANTONÍN KRATOCHVIL.


A remarkable story is told with intimacy and scope by Andrea Sedlácková in My Father Antonín Kratochvíl. It centres around the fates of three men who barely knew each other, despite sharing a surname. But, as this documentary unfolds, it reveals how much Jaroslav, Antonín and Michael Kratochvil have in common as both people and as photographers.


As fellow shutterbugs Ron Hoviv and Ed Koshi testify, Antonín Krathochvíl is one of a kind. The co-founder of the VII Photo Agency and a four-time winner of the World Press Photo Award, he is now based in the United States. But he was born in the Czechoslovakian town of Lovosice, where his father, Jaroslav, ran a photographic studio in a building that had been evacuated by fleeing Sudeten Germans following the imposition of the Beneš Decrees. However, as he refused to join the Communist Party, Jaroslav lost the shop in 1949 and was sent to the Vinor labour camp with his wife, Bedricha, and their three children. Antonín recalls catching the rats that infested their dwelling and going hungry, even though his mother worked on the collective farm, while his father collected metal shavings in a tool shop.


Things barely improved when the family was billeted in a Prague tenement, as they were marked out as traitors and their windows were frequently pelted with stones. As a six year-old Antonín had prayed for deliverance and refused to forgive God for ignoring him, as he became a rebellious teenager who came to the attention of the secret police. He also got his teenage girlfriend, Olga, pregnant and agreed to marry her in 1967. Before Michael was born, however, he had fled across the mountains through Yugoslavia to Austria and Michael arranges to meet Antonín at the Traiskirchen refugee camp with his half-brothers, Wayne and Gavin.


Having survived the brutal regime, he was offered asylum in Sweden by the Red Cross, but wound up in prison around the time of the Soviet incursion after working as a lifeguard. While on a photo trip to Chernobyl, Antonín tells Michael that he had invited Olga to join him and she had slept with his friend before returning to give her son up for adoption. Jaroslav and Bedricha had claimed him and raised him until Olga took him back and Michael regrets her cutting off contact with his beloved grandparents. When she met a new man named Peter, he was told that his father was dead, but he was with the French Foreign Legion n Chad before he escaped with a rope down the high wall of the bastion in Marseilles where he was recuperating after being hit in the stomach by shrapnel.


Michael recalls assisting Antonín in Rwanda and Mongolia and asks whether he uses the camera to distance himself from the horrors he is witnessing. He admits to sometimes feeling appalled, but insists that the only time he had been reduced to tears was when he learned his father had died. Back in the early 1970s, Antonín had been granted asylum in Holland, where he had borrowed a camera and blagged his way on to an arts course at college. But he didn't stay in Amsterdam for long, as he met and married American Laurie Ahlman, who persuaded him to follow her to California.


For a while, he enjoyed photographing stars like Smokey Robinson, Quincy Jones and The Pointer Sisters. But he quickly tired of the glitzy Los Angeles lifestyle and sold his studio to fund a world tour that took him to Iran and Afghanistan, where a series of pictures on the Soviet invasion for Rolling Stone won a prestigious award. On his return, he married third wife Jill Hartley and settled in New York, where he was fascinated by the city's energy and its light and shade. He also photographed the likes of Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, David Bowie, Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel, as we see a montage of famous faces that were photographed in an area close to an abattoir.


They hook up with longtime English associate Michael Persson, who regards Antonín as a father. This leads into Michael recalling how he finally got to meet the man he wasn't sure still existed when he was 18 and they forged an immediate bond, as Antonín was spending more time working in Eastern Europe, even though he was still barred from his homeland. However, it wasn't until after the Velvet Revolution that they began to spend quality time and Michael found his own vocation behind the camera.


Meanwhile, Antonín had met Gabriela, who was around half his age, but smitten. They remain together and tease each other about what first attracted them. He regrets not being there for his sons, but shrugs that he made money to raise them by risking his life in combat zones and he thanks his guardian angel for keeping him safe in Beirut and Iraq. As he describes nearly being executed in Haiti, he suggests that the ability not to show fear is more useful than having courage. However. Gabriela discloses the moments of night terror when he had barricaded them in their bedroom and had checked on her to ensure she wasn't a threat to his safety.


A health scare slowed him down a bit, while his reputation was tarnished when he was forced to resign from VII after accusations that he had behaved inappropriately to female colleagues. His family stood resolutely behind him and felt he had been scapegoated, with Wayne claiming that the post 9/11 backlash against white males feels like a form of `social terrorism'. While he almost feels ashamed of being American, Antonín felt betrayed by his friends and returned to Prague to set up the 400 ASA Agency, as a Peace Foundation mission to Rwanda had convinced him that he wasn't ready to retire. Moreover, he has no time to be bitter, he dismisses those who disappoint him and moves on to find people who need their stories telling through his lens.


Echoes of actualities like Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect: A Son's Journey (2003) rumble beneath this intriguing insight into the father/son dynamics within the Krathochvíl clan. Despite keeping the cameras of Jan Baset Strítežský and David Cysar close to his subjects, Sedlácková has the nous to leave them the space to interact and Antonín and Michael have some revealing conversations over the course of the shoot. The light doesn't shine into a couple of corners, with Antonín's attitude to his ex-wives and women in general remaining in the shadows (his daughter-in-law, for example, is cursorily dismissed as `the ballerina'). He also fights shy of addressing the impact of what he has witnessed upon his psyche, while we learn little about the resonance of his pictures on his readers.


But, while it might have been nice to hear from a few travelling companions and the odd picture or magazine editor, this skews satisfyingly towards the family angle. The segment on Jaroslav is particularly interesting, as he seems to have shared his son's opportunism, but lacked his luck in being interned for his intransigence. Michael's visit to the secret police archive is also instructive, as the file entries denounce the very characteristics that would make Antonín the man and the war photographer he is. Indeed, it's his very refusal to conform that has led him into the places where he has taken some of his most striking images.


OWNERS.


The spirit of the Czech Film Miracle courses through Owners, Jirí Havelka's award-winning adaptation of his own hit play. Exploring the extent to which the Communist mindset persists in a democratic era that has also seen the Czech psyche bombarded with external forces and ideas, this satirical chamber drama bears comparison with such hothouse single-room sagas as Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957) and Paolo Genovese's Perfect Strangers (2016). Indeed, like those films, Havelka's scenario contains enough universal truths to be successfully reworked in other countries around the world.


Things need to change in a multi-occupancy tenement somewhere in Prague. Or maybe they need to stay the same, only differently. As the chair of the committee representing the owners of the various apartments, Mrs Zahrádková (Tereza Voriskova) is determined that the next meeting isn't going to get bogged down in procedural snafus and snitty bickerings sparked by prejudice and self-interest. Milquetoast Mr Zahrádka (Vojtech Kotek) is right behind his wife. But their good intentions are kyboshed when the simple task of electing him minute taker becomes bogged down in rubric minutiae and altercationary objections.


To make matters worse, the chair needs to recognise a number of newcomers. Occupying the seats at the head of the table, the Cermák siblings (Krystof Hádek and Stanislav Majer) have flown in from New York and Moscow following the death of their father. They accept condolences with good grace, but are dismayed to discover that everyone else assembled has a key to their property and they insist upon their return with the same quiet vehemence with which they start making suggestions about the conduct of business and the future of the building.


Representing the mother who has been hospitalised with a hip injury, Mr Svec (David Novotný) makes a poor impression by forging her signature on his right of attorney before devoting himself to the consumption of the free cakes that the Zahrádkas have brought and the alcohol the Cermák's had produced to toast their father. New occupant Mr Bernásek (Jirí Cerný) and his pregnant Japanese wife, Mrs Bernásková (Marie Sawa), are made to feel less welcome, however, as they are made to sit outside the circle and are hectored into how to vote by Ms Horváthová (Dagmar Havlová).


She is not alone in seeking to obstruct Mrs Zahrádková in her efforts to discuss the state of the loft and the need to instal a lift to make life easier for those on the upper floors. But diehard apparatchik Mr Kubát (Jirí Lábus) insists that the structure cannot be improved, as they knew how to build in the Party era. The non-resident Mrs Procházková (Pavla Tomicová) concurs, as the noise made by an elevator would disturb the six Ghanaian medical students she is rackrenting in a single apartment. When Mr Nitranský (Andrej Polák) accuses them of being selfish, he is subjected to homophobic abuse by Kubát and threatened with violence by Procházková's property manager, Mr Novák (Ondrej Malý), who keeps interjecting to offer the services of the various shady businesses he operates on the side.


While Mr Sokol (Ladislav Trojan) buries his head in a book, as he has come to expect these sessions to reach no meaningful conclusions, Mrs Roubícková (Klára Melísková) hangs on every word in order to ensure that matters proceed according to the strict letter of the rulebook. The Cernáks recognise her as a useful ally and flatter her at every turn, while protesting that they are too inexperienced to participate and shall content themselves with a watching brief. One brother insists on escorting Mrs Bernásková to the bathroom when she feels unwell and the residents only show any form of unity when she dramatically shows signs of going into labour.


Naturally, it's a false alarm, unlike the meltdown that Mrs Zahrádková experiences when she realises that everyone is ganging up on her and that her husband is too nice to back her up. She composes herself by chiding her young sons in an adjoining room for playing with their phones. But she soon returns to the fray to make a last, desperate attempt to make her neighbours see sense about the leaky gas pipes, the roof tiles that keep sliding into the street and the need to show a united front if they are to retain control of their dwelling, let alone increase its safety and value.


Having bided their time, the Cernáks exploit the impasse to make their move. Posing as honest brokers, they convince the majority of the attendees to sign blank pieces of paper that will give them power of attorney once they have devised the right wording for an agreement. Only the suspicious Mrs Roubícková and the slumbering Mr Sokol hold out, with the latter being left alone when everyone else leaves. As he pads downstairs and along the street to his own entrance, he sees ambulances and fire engines tending to those affected by what appears to be a gas leak. But experience has taught him not to linger or pry and he shuffles inside and shuts the door.


Passing acerbic comment on the socio-political lurches that Czechs have experienced over the last 50 years, this is a fascinating snapshot of a country that has yet to come to terms with its past, present or future. The ensemble excels in conveying complex ideas in lay terms by revealing the extent to which self-interest has come to trump the common good. Tereza Voriskova scooped a number of awards for her frayed display as the chair with plenty of plans but no power. However, the pernickety Klára Melísková, the bigoted Jirí Lábus, the opportunistic Ondrej Malý and the vindictive Dagmar Havlová (who is the widow of Václav Havel) all have their moments, as insults, accusations and home truths are bandied around with vicious abandon.


Havelka's dialogue is exceptional, as it flits between weighty and petty matters with a cutting wit and a knowing insight into both human nature and the state of the nation. By staging the bulk of the action in a single room, he is able to channel the growing sense of claustrophobia into the rising tide of emotion that keeps threatening to engulf proceedings. Yet Martin Ziaran's camera proves deftly nimble, while Otakar Senovský's editing is impeccably timed to nail each gag and telltale shift in the balance of power that plays into the hands of the smarmy outsiders who artfully succeed in uniting the cabal through their ruinous divisions.


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