Three Czech childhood chums together face thirtysomething issues of fidelity and fertility in immensely likable intra-family comedy “Teddy Bear.” A sparkling showcase for the best thesping talent in the land, the pic isn’t the most dramatically profound from the joined-at-the-hip directing-writing team of Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky (“Divided We Fall,” “Up and Down”); yet universal truths about the relationship rollercoaster, coupled with terrific writing and a confident, time-shifting story will prompt A-list fest-cuddling, admirable arthouse sales and bullish ancillary.
In contempo Prague, struggling gallery owner Jirka (Jiri Machacek), smooth diplomat Ivan (Ivan Trojan) and affable gynecologist Roman (Roman Luknar) juggle demands of job and family with admirable energy, if not tangible discipline. Jirka’s wife Vanda (Tana Vilhelmova) runs a sweet shop that specializes in the layered cake, an old family recipe, from which pic gets its title. Parlor is the unofficial meeting place for Ivan’s wife Johanka (Natasa Burger), Roman’s wife Anna (Anna Geislerova) and Jirka’s sister-in-law Ema (Klara Issova).
Plot, as well as can be summarized in broad strokes, revolves around secrets and changes within these unions, and how they affect the others: Jirka and Vanda grapple with incompatibility, the paternity of Ivan’s growing family is called into question, and Roman is forced by a shocking duplicity to seek solace at the home of his constantly bickering parents (Vera Formanova-Kresadlova and vet helmer Jiri Menzel).
Unfolding relationships, and the willy-nilly chronological structure of the years during which action plays, reps the pic’s single greatest marketing challenge. Making a preemptive strike on the expected bewilderment over which child belongs to which union, one character responds to the presence of an unfamiliar moppet by asking, “I’ve lost track; how many does that make?”
Yet for those willing to lose themselves in the lives of others, this “Czech Chill” reaps rewards via sweet, filling chunks of dialogue set upon by hungry talent. Machacek has an uproarious monologue about his wife’s messiness that builds to a slapstick visual punchline, while Luknar’s looks of pained dignity take the comedy in a wordless direction. Hangdog helmer Menzel, whose current recent return to form “I Served the King of England” was at one time a Hrebejk/Jarchovsky team project, steals every scene he’s given.
Leading distaff talent is appealing across the board, with Slovak-born looker Zuzana Fialova and Formanova-Kresadlova, Milos Forman’s ex-wife and an actress rarely glimpsed, making the most of their smaller parts.
In their press kit, Hrebejk and Jarchovsky discuss the chaos among their respective families as the plot’s chief inspiration, along with the parent/child relationships at the heart of their previous work.
Tech package by longtime team regulars is tops. and graphic design package is eye-catching and proudly silly. Pic is set for a Sept. 5 domestic release.