A cinematic “Go Ask Alice” from the Czech Republic, “Katka” chronicles the life of a young drug user over a period of 14 years, culminating in a difficult pregnancy and the birth of a daughter. The latest long- term observational docu from veteran nonfiction filmmaker Helena Trestikova (“Rene,” “Marcela”) is another solidly made portrait of a hardscrabble life in the margins of Czech society. Pic sold an impressive 100,000 tix locally this winter, with more than half of the audience coming from schools through organized visits. Offshore, it should have no problems finding its way to fests and the tube.
Trestikova’s work, which could be characterized as the socio-realistic equivalent of time-lapse photography, has a lot in common with Michael Apted’s “Up” series, allowing auds to look at a character’s progress (or lack thereof) over an extended period, with truths and patterns surfacing naturally without the need for much commentary.
“Katka” forms a trilogy of sorts with “Rene,” and “Marcela,” and like these two films, it regularly checks in on the titular protag for a period spanning well over a decade. Also like “Marcela,” Trestikova’s latest docu grew out of shorter project for TV, in this case a one-hour docu that was part of the “Women at the Turn of the Century” series, broadcast in 2001.
The helmer first met her subject when following a drug therapist in 1996. Nineteen-year-old Katka Bradacova had already been an addict for four years at that stage, and dreamed of one day having a normal life and a baby. But her relationship with fellow druggie Lada Hrdina, who was later arrested for attempted murder, made it impossible to quit. After the two broke up, Bradacova was forced to move from shoplifting to prostitution to support herself and her habit.
The chronologically told pic quickly sketches in the early background also covered in the TV special before jumping to 2007 some 30 minutes in, when Bradacova discovers she will become a mother. Bulk of the film follows the protag through her pregnancy and beyond, offering a much bleaker real-life version of the fictional pregnant junkie in Francois Ozon’s recent “Hideaway.” But instead of an understanding gay best friend, Bradacova is saddled with on-off support from her new b.f., violent underworld figure Roman Liska, who is also a drug fiend.
Trestikova, who is again occasionally heard offscreen asking prodding questions, here keeps a respectful distance from her subject (unlike in her previous “Rene”). She captures one of the most poignant moments when a social worker visits Bradacova at the squat where she lives, a location for which “dump” would be a compliment. The place almost seems like a projection of Bradacova’s drug-addled state of mind, and clearly, it would be impossible to raise a child in these conditions.
Fluid editing adds captions indicating dates and Bradacova’s age, though her physical deterioration over the years tells most of the story. Coda shows her reaction after she’s seen the docu herself, and is a rare moment in which she seems to show genuine emotions not influenced by illegal substances.
A long list of cameramen used analog and digital Betacam equipment as well as modern digital video, some of it in HD, for the nonetheless quite coherent footage. Sound quality is also consistent.