Review: ‘Faithless Games’

"Faithless Games" is a focused meller that reflects on love, fidelity and nationalism in a small town on the Slovak-Hungarian border. A sure directorial hand and finely calibrated acting overcome some convenient plot coincidences, rendering pic a certainty on the fest circuit, a contender for selected arthouse markets and a good performer in ancillary.

“Faithless Games” is a focused meller that reflects on love, fidelity and nationalism in a small town on the Slovak-Hungarian border. A sure directorial hand and finely calibrated acting overcome some convenient plot coincidences, rendering pic a certainty on the fest circuit, a contender for selected arthouse markets and a good performer in ancillary.

Czech pianist Eva (Zuzana Stivinova) lives with her Slovak composer-musician husband Peter (Peter Bebjak) in Kamenin. While the pair seems genuinely fond of one another, fissures are beginning to show: Peter’s churlish obsession with his work comes at the expense of Eva’s career, and village life is far different from the way she lived in Prague. She earns a bit of money playing for weddings and giving piano lessons, but a profound melancholy is settling over her.

Two events disrupt their lives: First, they’re forced to share their land with the Hungarian owner Maria (Jana Hubinska) and her daughter Janka (Kristyna Svarinska) when the pair flees Maria’s abusive husband. Then, Peter’s friend Andrej (Ady Hajdu) drops by for a duet, and when Eva bumps into him during an impromptu trip to the Czech capital the inevitable comes to pass.

Things become even more confused when Janka’s crush on Peter causes her to misinterpret a moment between Eva and a young piano student. A trained animator with one live-action short and a docu to her credit and a bit part in Petr Zelenka’s “Buttoners,” debuting helmer Michaela Pavlatova understands that in this kind of chamber drama less is more. Her approach to Slovak scripter Tina Diosi’s fatalistic story is clear-eyed and even-keeled, despite plot twists that turn on such narrative shortcuts as overheard answering machine messages and a purloined diary. Pic’s lasting impression is one of stoic progress; after the mess these people make of their relationships, life in the village goes on.

A volcanic actress in Vera Chytilova’s “Traps,” Vladimir Michalek’s “Angel Exit” and other films, Stivinova’s quiet intensity here brings just the right balance of rebellion and resignation to Eva. As for the men in her life, Bebjak paints Peter as alternately petty and vulnerable, while Hajdu is suitably fickle as the home wrecker.

Tech credits are pro, led by discreet camerawork of vet Martin Strba and Brno-born composer Peter Hromadka’s atmospheric score. Some Czech-generated advance promo materials list pic under working title of “Unava ve dvou” — literally, “Lassitude for Two” — which is the name of the composition on which Peter is toiling. Prominent Czech actress Ivana Chylkova has a single-scene cameo as Eva’s Prague-based chum.

Faithless Games

Czech Republic-Slovakia

Production

A Negativ production (Prague), in co-production with Ars Media (Bratislava), Czech TV (Prague), Slovak TV (Bratislava). (International sales: Negativ, Prague.) Produced by Katerina Cerna, Pavel Strnad. Directed by Michaela Pavlatova. Screenplay, Tina Diosi.

Crew

Camera (color), Martin Strba; editor, Tonicka Jankova; music, Petr Hromadka; set designer, Tomas Zizka; costume designer, Katarina Bielikova; sound, Daniel Nemec. Reviewed at Finale Pilson Film Festival (Special Screenings), April 3, 2003. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Zuzana Stivinova, Peter Bebjak, Ady Hajdu, Jana Hubinska, Kristyna Svarinska, Ivana Chylkova. (Slovak, Czech dialogue.)
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