Recent history once again intrudes on the present-day lives of working Czechs in the masterful multicharacter drama “Beauty in Trouble.” Latest work from the fruitful, long-time partnership of director Jan Hrebejk and scripter Petr Jarchovsky deepens and expands the overarching ideas of fate, love and redemption found in their previous film, the equally resonant “Up and Down.” Duo’s work is a staple of the high-profile fest circuit, and will, following an early September domestic bow, be in great demand in territories where moving, human dramas are valued.
Title comes from the Robert Graves poem, itself adapted into a Czech popular song in the 1980s and performed in the film by homegrown thrush Raduza. Germ of the pic’s idea was the first line, “Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel/On whom she can rely…”
This is manifested in the form of beautiful young mother Marcela (“Zelary” star Ana Geislerova), who lost everything in the 2002 floods that swept through Prague. She’s living in a spartan flat attached to the chop shop run by her husband Jarda (Roman Luknar), a surly but fundamentally good man forced into crime to make ends meet. Just about all they’ve got left is spectacular sex, which routinely forces their children, Lucina (Michaela Mrvikova) and asthmatic Kuba (Adam Misik) to cover their ears.
When one of Jarda’s workers steals a station wagon belonging to well-to-do emigre Czech vintner Evzen Benes (Josef Abrham), Jarda is thrown into prison. This forces Marcela and her children into the cramped flat of her timid mother, Zdena (Jana Brejchova) and her domineering husband, Richard Hrstka (Jiri Schmitzer).
Having met briefly at the police station, vinter Benes and Marcela eventually begin a hesitant, low-key courtship. In time, he takes mother and children to his Tuscany vineyard, reconnecting with his Czech heritage, while Marcela sacrifices family for stability. Fate, however, has other ideas.
Story’s twists and turns are plausible, while maintaining narrative elegance and clarity. D.P. Jan Malir’s widescreen frame is packed with rich character detail, from the Italian translation of Kundera that Benes reads at the police station to the wine-and-soda concoction, dubbed a “Toadstool,” favored by the uncultured yet complex Marcela.
Perfs are strong and focused. Geislerova expands on the new maternal ferocity first exhibited in Bohdan Slama’s “Something Like Happiness,” while Luknar makes a welcome return to Czech film after starring in the 1995 Slovak fest fave “The Garden.” Vets Vasaryova, Brejchova and Abrham bring gravity to proceedings, while Mrvikova and Misik are poised as moppets trying to make sense of adult foibles.
In a company of skilled thesps, Schmitzer brings the bitter Hrstka to monstrous life as a lacerating Greek Chorus of unwanted truths and psychological gamesmanship. Only when auds are convinced he’s a total bastard does he almost off-handedly deliver one of the pic’s strongest thoughts.
Production package is first-rate. Composer Ales Brezina’s spare score is supplemented by aforementioned Raduza and a few original English-lingo songs from Glen Hansard, leader of Irish band the Frames.