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An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World

The report on Juraj Jakubisko's 13th film, "An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World," is far from ambiguous. The Slovak helmer's ambitious, richly layered apocalyptic vision, set in a small mountain village in Central Europe, has an epic-in-miniature structure, woven with the ties of family and community, that invites comparison with his mammoth 1983 yarn, "The Millennial Bee." Jakubisko packs the text and the screen with enough material for a handful of movies from a lesser director: The only regret is he didn't shoot it in widescreen to equal the scope of the tale. Pic looks destined for high-profile festival appearances, followed by some arthouse play. A six-hour TV version is in the works. Though the central story spans only two decades, its cultural elements mingle everything from the post-medieval to the futuristic. The result can be disconcerting, as when a ponytailed punk offers drugs to his old-world g.f., or when a New Age prophet passes the crashed tail of a reconnaissance plane jutting out of the ground at the edge of the isolated community. At the movie's core is tragedy, with passions on a grand scale --- the tragedy not only of the story's doomed lovers but also of the loss of an old way of life.

With:
Goran ..... Milan Bahul Verona ..... Deana Horvathova Veronika ..... Klara Issova Madina ..... Joachim Kemmer Michal ..... Matej Hadek Juzek ..... Jiri Krytinar Simon ..... Radoslav Brzpbohaty Marilyn ..... Jana Svandova Semek ..... Vladimir Javorsky Rychtar ..... Pavel Landovsky

The film begins with a double death in a magnificent snow-covered wilderness that’s halfway between a biblical sacrifice and an addendum to the Book of Revelations. We’re then deftly transported back to the events that preceded it, starting with the joyous folk wedding of 16-year-old Verona (producer-thesp Deana Horvathova, Jakubisko’s real-life wife), which is interrupted by an attack of wolves. The few survivors include Verona, aided by her 10-year-old brother-in-law, Goran. On the same day, the bride loses her husband and gives birth to a daughter, Veronika, whom she betroths to Goran.

Ten years later, the reduced community celebrates the birthday of Veronika (Klara Issova) and her formal engagement to the now-adult Goran (Milan Bahul). Again, the festivities are disturbed by intruders — this time a snow-stranded female circus troupe and its crafty owner, Madina (Joachim Kemmer). After losing his harem to the local men at cards, Madina is forced to settle in the village. Veronika finds a more suitable companion in Madina’s young son, Michal (Matej Hadek).

The unions that result from the night of gambling are distinctly unconventional. An unorthodox priest worships a giantess; dwarf Juzek (Jiri Krytinar) bonds with an abandoned monkey (the one creature that can look up to him); a shepherd takes in two orphans; and a farmer is happily nagged and bedded by redheaded twins.

Trading farm crops for poppy fields, the villagers turn to smuggling for survival, attracting the attention of the law while introducing a disease that kills off the children. Thoroughly modern Michal, straddling old world and new (including an unnecessary and out-of-place episode involving a deal with Gypsies), draws wrath from all quarters and drives a wedge between Veronika and Goran. Michal’s murder clears the way for their long-planned wedding, a joyless shadow of Verona’s 20 years earlier. Following more disasters, the couple are hounded out of the village and hunted like a pair of animals.

The pic’s strong characterizations are rooted in a script that is both emotionally satisfying and filled with dialogue ranging from the earthy to the enigmatic. Jakubisko has an uncanny eye for casting, and shows off his actors to their best advantage, not by discovering any great depths of acting but by a painterly and detached use of camera.

Horvathova, a spunky actress with a devilish side, has the difficult task of conveying the message of man’s suffering under an unjust God, and the pic could do with a few less lingering shots of her anguish. But the cast generally excels, especially German actor Kemmer, whose eyes reveal an animal cunning, and Issova, a sensitive young actress with an inner glow. Czech actor Krytinar turns a supporting part into a strongly colored role.

Masterful editing almost eclipses the energetic and creative camerawork typical of a Jakubisko film, and the movie’s visual riches are raised to dizzying heights by a complex soundtrack. Scene segues and the wolf attack are especially accomplished.

An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World

Czech

Production: A Falcon release (in Czech Republic) of a J&J Jakubisko Film production, in association with Czech TV. (International sales: J&J Jakubisko, Prague.) Produced by Deana Horvathova. Directed by Juraj Jakubisko. Screenplay, Jakubisko, Jan Novak.

Crew: Camera (color), Jan Duris; editor, Ludek Hudec; music, Ondrej Soukup, Jan Jirasek; art direction, Karel Vacek; costume design, Petr Canecky; sound (Dolby), Michael Houdek. Reviewed at Lucerna Cinema, Prague, Feb. 13, 1997. Running time: 157 MIN.

With: Goran ..... Milan Bahul Verona ..... Deana Horvathova Veronika ..... Klara Issova Madina ..... Joachim Kemmer Michal ..... Matej Hadek Juzek ..... Jiri Krytinar Simon ..... Radoslav Brzpbohaty Marilyn ..... Jana Svandova Semek ..... Vladimir Javorsky Rychtar ..... Pavel Landovsky

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