Every bit as monumental in their depiction of average subjects aging in front of the camera as Michael Apted’s “Up” series, Czech helmer Helena Trestikova’s half-dozen “Marriage Etudes” skeins continue to break ground in the long-term docu arena. Muted, respectful and tinged with mystery as it traces 26 years in the life of its title citizen, project offshoot “Marcela” could very well be the pic that moves Trestikova and her work into the international spotlight, with fest berths, arthouse play and ancillary life.
From the moment she marries stuffy-looking Jiri Haverland in 1980, affable 20-year-old equestrienne Marcela Rosol seems to want for two things in the world: a man to love her and an apartment large enough to call home.
Yet life, as John Lennon famously composed at about the same time, “is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Their baby, Ivana, is born in 1981, and shortly thereafter Marcela leaves Jiri, apparently due in part to a mutual dislike of their mothers-in-law. A messy divorce, the first of many hospital stays and an ill-advised reconciliation later, Jiri is gone for good.
Later, on the eve of the new millennium, with a developmentally challenged son, Tomas, by a never-seen suitor, Marcela is still looking for a good man and a larger flat. Struggling with Tomas’ care and the lack of solid work for her and the now-grown Ivana, she takes comfort in a hinted-at circle of friends who relax listening to country music.
Ivana is found dead under suspicious circumstances on the way home from work in late 2005, and this plunges Marcela into despair. Czech tube airings of her story lead to offscreen donations and shows of support — including, incredibly enough, a phone stalker. “Why must it always happen to me?” Marcela wonders of her relentless misfortune.
Yet through these travails, she doggedly refuses to throw in the towel. “We must live the kind of life we won’t be ashamed of,” she says at one point during the years, though she continues to wonder, “Why are we here, what’s the point of living?”
Like most people, Marcela is a contradiction, and there are as many ways to interpret her choices as there are eyes to see them. Ultimately, she comes off as that greatest of Czech vernacular compliments, “a fighter.”
“I rather listen than talk,” says Trestikova, who can be glimpsed helping Marcela after she faints while placing Ivana’s ashes in a columbarium. This is a succinct description of her confident helming style, blending Frederick Wiseman’s cool impartiality and the passionate social profiling of Barbara Kopple.
Tech work is fluid and seamless. Pic won the feature docu prize at the Plzen fest for local product.