Sparkling black comedy “An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes” chronicles the adventures of a Czech mother and her two daughters in the wake of the 1968 Russian invasion, capturing the euphoria of the liberalized, democratized Prague Spring that Soviet tanks were dispatched to repress. Pic evokes a lingering free-spiritedness under adverse conditions, a solidarity in absurdism that persisted in the dark days following the clampdown. A strong sardonic script by Tereza Bouckova, solid directing by vet helmer Irena Pavlaskova and an outstanding cast headed by Vilma Cibulkova make for a highly entertaining historical jaunt well suited to fest play.
Film production coordinator Marta (Cibulkova, in an ebullient perf that earned her actress honors at the Moscow fest), her daughters Gabina (Tereza Voriskova) and Madja (Dana Markova), and Marta’s live-in lover Mirek (Miroslav Etzler) drive home from vacation to almost literally run into tanks in the streets.
Marta adapts surprisingly well to the aftermath of the Soviet siege. Her production experience in handling excitable directors at the Prague film studios, as well as coping with the self-important posturings of her famous actor ex-husband (Jiri Dvorak), has prepared her to deal with practically anything — including the fear and paranoia that sets in after the city’s initial resistance to the Russians proves futile. As talented individualists are steadily replaced by bureaucratic yes-men, and Marta herself is relegated to the archives, she continues to frequent the same artists’ dens and meet with the same free-thinkers whose activities increasingly come under suspicion and persecution.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Marta’s household has undergone a few regime changes of its own. Boyfriend Mirek has been booted out, and cameraman Tom (Jan Zadrazil) takes his place as lover and part-time dad to the girls. But 1968 also ushered in the sexual revolution, and as the country sinks further under repression, a kind of giddy recklessness creeps over Marta and her friends; possessiveness and jealousy fade, and Marta’s lovers, no longer mutually exclusive, learn to appreciate each other, much to their own bemusement.
Perhaps the most memorable of these is Jan (Ondrej Vetchy), a dissident writer (probably based on Vaclav Havel), who has been arrested so many times he checks his briefcase for toothbrush, comb and other prison necessities every time he hears a knock at the door.
Helmer Pavlaskova maintains a more delicate tonal balance than in her celebrated, far darker “Time of Servants” (1989); here, the characters’ closeness and the rush of their shared activism take the edge off political gravitas, while human foibles, never entirely limited to the enemy, add to the picture’s comic, puppyish elan. No “To Be or Not to Be” (though Marta’s egomaniacal actor ex bears a certain resemblance to Jack Benny’s hammy Joseph Tura), “An Earthly Paradise” primly recalls the spirit if not the raw physical immediacy and impact of Czech filmmaking of the era.