The planned installation of a U.S. military radar base on Czech soil causes home-front opponents and supporters to get their panties in a twist in “Czech Peace.” Documentarians Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak (“Czech Dream”) attempt to look at larger geopolitical mechanisms through the prism of a local, ideological tug of war — the Americans remain mostly offscreen — but the duo’s expose is too muddled and too enamored of the parochial bickering it showcases to become very involving for non-Czechs. Commercially, “Peace” will be more like a stalemate, though docu fests might want a piece of the action.
Remunda and Klusak’s 2004 “Czech Dream” explored the influence and power of advertising in a post-communist society through a publicity campaign they mounted for a nonexistent supermarket. That pic’s energy and personality came largely from the directors themselves, who appeared onscreen in a way reminiscent of the work of Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore.
This second joint effort is a more conventional documentary. The helmers take a look at a conflict they had no hand in creating, and do not appear oncamera as shrewd commentators, instead letting the events and personalities speak for themselves — which makes the film immediately less accessible for those unfamiliar with Czech politics and society.
As part of the National Missile Defense Project, the U.S. government made an official request to its Czech counterpart in January 2007 for permission to install a missile-defense radar system in a military zone southwest of Prague. For many Czechs, the possible presence of foreign military equipment and personnel immediately raised the specter of the communist era.
Jan Neoral, the tireless mayor of a village close to the proposed military site, leads the local crusade against the 21st-century Star Wars project, while on the opposing side, staunch defenders are led by Tomas Klvana, a spokesman-cum-publicist for the radar project, funded by the Czech government.
Klusak and Remunda follow the demonstrations and debates in the streets and on TV, as well as the Greenpeace-like stunts on and near the proposed military site by peace activists (the latter element being not only the film’s most interesting cinematically, but also the closest to the guerrilla non-conformism of “Czech Dream”).
Though the press materials rightly underline that what unites both sides is fear — either of being attacked, or of becoming a de facto vassal state of the U.S. — this conclusion is not something that arises directly from the material.
Scenes are often haphazardly stitched together in an effort to balance chronology and the helmers’ desire for laughs; a shot of a masturbating wind-up toy on top of a model of the White House, for instance, is the kind of cheap shot that makes it hard to take the rest of the docu seriously. Some of the loonier inserts, including a musicvideo of the “radar song” that was written, per documakers, by the minister of defense, provide laughs that are largely lost in translation.
Though parts of the film were shot in the White House and the Pentagon (during an official Czech state visit), there is never a sense that the radar conflict is in some way a symptom of a world dominated by a few superpowers, in which smaller countries can’t assert their independence. Because the film lacks context and its focus is so myopic, even President Obama’s deus ex machina appearance fails to convey the desired impact.
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