His faith is tested by the dire situation he’s facing, with the church seemingly doomed to extinction because his parishioners don’t have the political or financial juice to stave off the shuttering. He’s also becoming beaten down by the sad plight of a local woman (Veronika Zilkova) he has long secretly loved. Bravely battling cancer as her coarse, blue-collar hubbie and young children helplessly look on, the woman knows of Holy’s feelings, but facing death, she is looking for higher truths to comfort her.An irascible local sculptor (Jiri Pecha) assists the priest in a risky plan to make a copy of a renaissance-era statue that is housed in the church, in order to sell the original to raise the funds needed to keep the parish structure intact, a scheme that leads the priest through a series of adventures involving the townspeople and the hard-edged authorities. By film’s fade, the priest has managed to keep his spirit together, and also counsel and comfort the dying woman, even touching the hardened heart of her grieving husband. Though the narrative structure suffers from the same jerky stops and starts as Michalek’s less engaging “Amerika,” here he has the benefit of a beautiful central performance by Polivka, an actor best known locally for his comedic, not dramatic, skills. Zilkova, as the quietly desperate but dignified dying woman, is also outstanding, as is Pecha as the priest’s lively accomplice. Martin Duba’s lensing brilliantly captures the nuances of the country light and the church’s interior spaces. Though nonbelievers may be put off by the pic’s clear endorsement of the Catholic quest for God’s presence and guidance, story translates as a compelling and universal tale of integrity and faith at war with time, human corruption and the frailties of even the most devout.
A Studio Fama 92 and Czech Television production. Produced by Alice Nemanska, Jana Tomsova, Ivana Kacirkova. Directed by Vladimir Michalek. Screenplay, Milena Jelinek, based on a novel by Jakub Demi
Camera (color) Martin Duba; editor, Ivana Kacirkova; music, Radim Hladik, Michal Dvorak; sound, Radim Hladik Jr. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 5, 1997. Running time: 101 MIN.
Boleslav Polivka, Veronika Zilkova, Peter Kavan, Jiri Pecha, Simona Pekova, Antonin Kinsky, Jaromira Milova, Sona Valentova, Jiri Labus.