Review: ‘Daddy’

A warm but ultimately bittersweet valentine to his famous father, helmer Jan Sverak's "Daddy," made in concert with Martin Dostal, examines with clear-eyed affection the life and career of writer-actor-performer Zdenek Sverak, who wrote and starred in the younger Sverak's Oscar-winning 1996 drama "Kolya."

A warm but ultimately bittersweet valentine to his famous father, helmer Jan Sverak’s “Daddy,” made in concert with Martin Dostal, examines with clear-eyed affection the life and career of writer-actor-performer Zdenek Sverak, who wrote and starred in the younger Sverak’s Oscar-winning 1996 drama “Kolya.” Already available in a stylish, extras-laden domestic DVD edition, feature-length docu is a natural for tube sales and fest play in the many territories where “Kolya” charmed auds.

Though confessing the “blows to the soul” required to revisit a childhood marred by the fact that the first Zdenek Sverak died young of blood poisoning from a rusty nail, the bearded 70-year-old raconteur remembers his rearing by his father, an “electrician and beer drinker,” as largely pleasant.

In his first career, as a teacher, Sverak called his students “friends” and registered with the communist party reasoning that “if enough good people join, it will change.” Resigning in 1968, he later shifted to writing, first as a member of the still-performing comedy quartet Jara Cimrman Theater (named after the fictional, “Zelig”-like Czech national hero of his own invention) and then as scripter–in partnership with Ladislav Smoljak and then independently–of such cherished Czech pics as the 1985 Oscar-winning “My Sweet Little Village,” on which he was urged to “write freely, nobody will read it.”

At the 58-minute mark, Sverak announces “here comes Jan,” and pic shifts to documenting their work on three projects to date, “Elementary School,” “Kolya” and “Dark Blue World.” The “Kolya” Oscar afforded them the opportunity to make the logistically daunting World War II action picture “World” with “no concessions.”

Father and son seem to get along so effortlessly that it comes as a shock when dad announces that the new script he’s blocked out with color-coded cards on a bulletin board, “Returnable Bottles,” has been scuttled due, apparently, to disagreements over the direction of the lead character he was to play. Later, speaking calmly to one another in a comfortable kitchen, the two decide to part professional ways.

Laced liberally with family photos, vintage home movies and shrewdly-chosen clips from his work and stage perfs, pic flows smoothly even for those unfamiliar with Sverak’s work but lacks any additional details about how he managed to maintain a high-profile career during the years of Soviet occupation. Tech credits are sumptuous.

Daddy

Czech Republic

Production

A Bontonfilm release (in the Czech Republic) of a Czech TV, Biograf Jan Sverak production. (International sales: Czech TV, Prague.) Directed, written by Jan Sverak, Martin Dostal.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Ivan Zacharias, Radka Splichalova; editors, Alois Fisarek, Pavel Sistek; sound (Dolby Digital), Viktor Ekrt. Reviewed at Finale Pilsen, Czech Republic, April 28, 2005. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Zdenek Sverak, Ladislav Smoljak, Jaroslav Uhlir, Jan Sverak.
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