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Passage

A man is trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare in a Prague shopping mall in "Passage," an initially intriguing but ultimately tiresome pic from veteran director Juraj Herz. Handsome production, which is based on a well-regarded novel, could find audiences in parts of Europe, but it's unlikely to travel. "Mall" might actually be a better title for this at times eerie yarn from the man whose "The Cremator" (1969) is one of the finest evocations of a Kafkaesque universe.

With:
Forman ..... Jacek Borkowski Betty ..... Malgorzata Kozuchowska Klara ..... Zora Jandova Lukasek ..... Zdenek Maryska Head Porter..... Martin Stepanek Uxa .....Tomas Topfer

It starts very well, with Jacek Borkowski as Forman, a harassed businessman caught in a morning traffic jam in pouring rain and realizing he’s forgotten his 10th wedding anniversary. When his car breaks down, he shelters in the crowded passageway entrance to an elegant art deco mall that includes shops, a cinema and a restaurant.

As he waits, a man who looks very much like him dashes from the passageway into the road and is fatally hit by a car.

A little girl beckons Forman into the mall, and he follows her into what proves to be a nightmare world from which there appears to be no escape. The mall is a strange, sinister place, inhabited by weird people. But at first Forman doesn’t notice the unreality. He wanders into stores, a bar, a pool hall, having increasingly strange encounters along the way. He’s tricked into giving the mall’s concierge his credit cards and identity papers in exchange for a key that is supposed to fit every door in the place, and without his papers he’s unable to leave, trapped in this underground world.

One of his encounters is with Lukasek (Zdenek Maryska), an old friend and rival for the affections of Forman’s wife whom Forman thought was dead. Forman also meets the elderly man who guards the mall’s boiler room, and whose young girlfriend never wears clothes. A film crew seems to be shooting everything that happens in the mall, and when at one stage Forman goes to the cinema, he sees himself on the screen. He buys a present for his wife and the storekeeper agrees to gift-wrap it, but every time Forman returns to her shop to pick up his package he finds it closed.

Most of all, the trapped Forman becomes intrigued by Betty (Malgorzata Kozuchowska), a beautiful flower-seller who has sex with men in a public toilet, creating such tremors in the process that tiles and mirrors crack and fall; her partners wind up dead, and are carted off by a couple of laconic ambulance men who talk endlessly about recipes for gourmet meals.

Visually and aurally, the film is an impressive piece of work; production design and photography are aces, and there’s a particularly rich and evocative soundtrack.

But, after a while, Forman’s predicament becomes monotonous, and Herz isn’t able, in the end, to endow his protagonist’s plight with the nightmarish feeling it crucially requires. Though the ending is satisfactory, it is completely unsurprising given all that has preceded it.

“Passage” is pic’s original Czech title.

Passage

CZECH-FRENCH-BELGIAN

Production: An Etamp Film Prods. (Prague)/Les Films de la Cassine, Dune Films (Paris)/Artemis Films (Brussels) co-production, with the support of Eurimages, Czech Republic Culture Ministry. (International sales: Les Films de la Cassine, Paris.) Produced by Jan Bilek, Eve Vercel, Robert Nador, Patrick Quinet. Directed by Juraj Herz. Screenplay, Herz, Christian Rullier, based on the novel by Karel Pecka.

Crew: Camera (color), Jiri Machane; editor, Jan Svoboda; music, Zdenek Merta; production design, Ondrej Nekvasil; costumes, Simona Rybakova; sound (Dolby), Jiri Kriz, Harrik Maury, Miroslav Hurka; assistant director, Alice Renuvska; casting, Ondrej Balik. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 14, 1997. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Forman ..... Jacek Borkowski Betty ..... Malgorzata Kozuchowska Klara ..... Zora Jandova Lukasek ..... Zdenek Maryska Head Porter..... Martin Stepanek Uxa .....Tomas Topfer

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