Review: ‘Eighty Letters’

Not every private experience sustains translation into public art, as exemplified by earnest, enervating mood piece "Eighty Letters."

Not every private experience sustains translation into public art, as exemplified by earnest, enervating mood piece “Eighty Letters” from Czech helmer Vaclav Kadrnka. Distilling his memories of life without his father, who defected to Great Britain in 1986, and his mother’s determination that they join him there into the anti-climactic events of a single day in the cold spring of 1987, this oddly stylized, low-budget pic provides a tiresome viewing experience unlikely to find further fest travel.

Teen Vasek (Martin Pavlus) awakes in a panic one morning and runs to join his mother (Zuzana Lapcikova) as she makes the rounds of various bureaucracies in hopes of obtaining their exit visas. While she vanishes behind closed doors, he silently watches and waits. The stylized soundtrack emphasizes footsteps and is enlivened only by quotations from actual letters written by the helmer’s mother. Lensing is mainly claustrophobic closeup, while heavy-handed editing holds every shot a few beats too long. Thesping by amateurs offers little energy; closing B&W photo of the helmer and his mother from the time at which the pic is based supplies 10 times the visual dynamism.

Eighty Letters

Czech Republic


A Vaclav Kadrnka production in co-production with Bystrouska Studio Zvuku, Cinepost with support from Lukrom, Ministry of Culture, City of Zlin. Produced by Vaclav Kadrnka. Directed by Vaclav Kadrnka. Screenplay, Jiri Soukup, Kadrnka.


Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Brano Pazitka; editor, Pavel Kolaja; art director, Zdenek Elias. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Feb. 21, 2011 (In Berlin Film Festival -- Forum.) Running time: 75 MIN.


Zuzana Lapcikova, Martin Pavlus.

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