A Pin for the Butterfly; Czech-British

Adisturbing and affecting experience for those hearty viewers who weather the idiosyncrasies, complexities and stylistic wobbliness of the first half of the film, "A Pin for the Butterfly" is ultimately worth the wade. Pic's arcane politics and downbeat subject matter (Eastern Europe under the Communist yoke) will make it a tough sell in most markets. Highbrow audiences with a taste for challenging fare could carry "Pin" through to slight payoff on cable and video, with a modest chance for arthouse theatrical dollars.

With:
Grandma ... Joan Plowright Grandpa ... Ian Bannen Uncle ... Hugh Laurie Mother ... Imogen Stubbs Great Uncle ... Ian Hogg Marushka ... Florence Hoath

Adisturbing and affecting experience for those hearty viewers who weather the idiosyncrasies, complexities and stylistic wobbliness of the first half of the film, “A Pin for the Butterfly” is ultimately worth the wade. Pic’s arcane politics and downbeat subject matter (Eastern Europe under the Communist yoke) will make it a tough sell in most markets. Highbrow audiences with a taste for challenging fare could carry “Pin” through to slight payoff on cable and video, with a modest chance for arthouse theatrical dollars.

One of the prime oddities of “Pin” is that the film is packed with Brit acting talents, so it takes a while to adjust to the English accents clashing with the Czech locations and East Euro setting of the story.

Set in Stalinist Czechoslovakia, “Pin” chronicles the trials of a petit bourgeois family crumbling under the pressures of the ’50s Eastern Bloc version of political correctness, wherein a mere positive mention of anything Western could send one to ruin, prison and total ostracism.

Marushka (played stunningly by newcomer Florence Hoath) is a young schoolgirl with an active imagination and unstifled bravery — something her grandparents (Joan Plowright and Ian Bannen) have in short supply and her mother (Imogen Stubbs) possesses not at all.

A would-be actress in the service of the local socialist-realist theater, Marushka’s mom is too busy courting favor with the town Communist powers to tend to her daughter.

That duty falls on her grandparents and uncle (Hugh Laurie), who is deeply conflicted by the current events. His aspirations for a life of free thought draw the family into a deadly conflict with the authorities, a dilemma from which there is no safe quarter.

Director Hannah Kodichek scores points for earnestness and ambition, but “Pin” suffers from perhaps too much of both, and the uncertain tone of the first half of the film, with its mythical creatures, spry humor and dark undertones, muddies the waters of what is a fairly straightforward tale.

Add to those woes the script’s clumsy dramaturgy and the confusion of the English accents in the Iron Curtain setting. In short, the audience may find its desire waning before the story kicks into gear, when Marushka’s plight comes into a clearer, if tragic, focus.

Production credits are solid, the Czech locations lovely and evocative. Hoath is a polished child thesper, and the film distinguishes itself by not settling for pat answers.

The film asks what price one will pay for security and acceptance, and how children should deal with a world of adults who have abdicated authority and fled from wisdom.

In a market crammed with bloody vengeance tales and erotica, “Pin” deserves points for its seriousness of purpose and willingness to make a tough family film.

A Pin for the Butterfly; Czech-British

Production: A Heureka Film Prague & Channel Four presentation of a Skreba Film production. Produced by James Crawford. Executive producer, Ann Skinner. Directed, written by Hannah Kodichek.

Crew: Camera, Ivan Slapeta; editor, Kant Pan; music, Illona Sekacz; production design, Jiri Matolin; costume design, Jan Ruzicka; casting, Kathleen Mackie. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 14, 1994. Running time: 113 MIN.

With: Grandma ... Joan Plowright Grandpa ... Ian Bannen Uncle ... Hugh Laurie Mother ... Imogen Stubbs Great Uncle ... Ian Hogg Marushka ... Florence Hoath

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