Lea Lenka Vlasakova
Strehlow Christian Redl
Wanda Hanna Schygulla
Gregor Palty Miroslav Donutil
Block Udo Kier
(Slovak and German dialogue)
A bizarre love story is depicted in this grim saga about a troubled young woman who is forced into marriage with a cruel stranger. First-time director Ivan Fila has coaxed strong performances from his cast and created an intense atmosphere, but it seems doubtful that audiences will respond to this tale of sexual repression unless it receives positive reviews via the fest circuit.
Pic opens in 1977 in a small Slovak village. Seven-year-old Lea’s brutal father regularly rapes her mother; when the child tries to prevent the latest assault, she’s brutally punished. Eventually, mother and daughter try to escape, but the drunken husband catches up with them and murders his wife.
Lea establishes an underground shrine to her mother’s memory and is taken in by a foster family, but the trauma she has undergone has resulted in a speech impediment. Fourteen years later, Lea (Lenka Vlasakova) still keeps the shrine and is still unable to speak properly, but she has grown into a beautiful young woman.
Strehlow (Christian Redl), a German antique restorer, visits the village, sees the girl, and is immediately attracted to her. He pays her foster father a large sum of money for her. Lea is told only that she has to accompany this man to Germany where he has work for her; only later does she discover she is to be the wife of a man who seems to be as brutal as her father was.
Strehlow, a widower and former member of the French Foreign Legion, spends his spare time shooting at targets and pumping iron, and has few social graces. Lea tries constantly to escape, but is always caught and, eventually, is restrained by use of chains and handcuffs. Gradually, however, Strehlow warms to the girl. He discovers that she loves music, and gives her a violin. This proves to be the beginning of a more sensitive relationship.
Vlasakova is touching as the tragic Lea, while Redl does his best to humanize the moronic Strehlow. Pic also includes turns by Hanna Schygulla, who plays a woman who acts as interpreter between husband and wife, and Udo Kier, overplaying his role as an antique dealer.
Writer-director Fila has an unfortunate tendency to overstate things, and his bombastic style doesn’t always fit what is basically an unsettling love story in which a mindlessly macho man is softened by a sweet young woman. The discordant music (by Petr Hapka) often works against the drama. Vladimir Smutny’s camerawork is attractive, andall other credits are solid.