Helmer Roman Vavra earns a spot among the young Czech generation with his debut film, the three-episode “In the Rye.” Like contemporary Petr Zelenka’s fest fave “Buttoners,” new pic loosely joins a series of stories, in this case all set in a rye field and covering the range of seasons and span of life. With its cross-generational appeal, sly humor and arthouse smarts, this wry and tasty “Rye” should see plenty of fest activity. On home turf, weak distribution impeded pic’s progress when released late last year.
First seg, “The Chaff,” which Vavra shot as his graduation film, follows a student couple looking for signs of extraterrestrial visitors in the rye field. Vavra’s take on the subject is to fill the field with everyday detail — a ladybug climbing a stalk of rye, a pair of lovers scampering away, shards of glass from broken beer bottles — that take on mysterious overtones, none of which the callow couple notices. Story’s title refers to the unfortunate results of being speared by a rye stalk — or, as the film’s final epigram puts it, “The chaff is gone, but the feeling remains.”
Second episode, “The Haystack,” is the most fully realized: an end-of-summer tale of four boys who find the girl of their dreams (alluring Klara Issova) holed up in their haystack hideaway. Layers of relationships and G-rated sexual awakening are threaded throughout the segment, with the boys ranging from a neighborhood know-it-all (colorful Vaclav Jakoubek) drooling for his first French kiss, to the sweet central character (David Oliva) mystified by the budding girl next door.
Finally, “The Path” follows the chaste wedding-night mishaps of an elderly couple (wonderful Iva Janzurova, nicely paired with Karel Brozek). As in the previous segs, the real drama lies between the lines, with the faces of villagers speaking loudest with their glances.
Vavra and his co-writers have a nice ear for dialogue that delineates character through the most ordinary conversations. Storylines are similarly rich in their apparent simplicity. Tech credits throughout are above par for what started life as a graduation film.