Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Revival’

Arthouse programmers should take note of this snappy, sparkling comedy from talented Czech helmer-scribe Alice Nellis.

Revival Review

Four musicians whose rock band broke up in 1972 reunite for a comeback in the sweet, smart and funny tragicomedy “Revival,” the sixth feature from talented Czech helmer-scribe Alice Nellis. Boasting sparkling performances, witty dialogue, a snappy pace, and a level of warm, ironic humor that is both local and universal, this crowdpleaser nabbed the audience award at the recent Karlovy Vary fest, raising expectations that it will be the domestic hit of the year. Arthouse programmers should take note; ditto foreign producers seeking a foolproof vehicle to remake for beloved, older thesps

Once known as the “Czech Beatles,” the revolutionary rockers in English-language band Smoke have long since gone their separate ways. But 40 years later, several of the members come together to play at the funeral of the wife of former guitarist Vasek (Boleslav Polivka). Inspired by this brief reunion, keyboardist Milan (Karel Hermanek), who runs a recording studio with his much younger wife (Lucie Zackova), thinks contempo audiences might be interested in the type of music he and the others produced during the last gasp of socialism. Since his studio is on the verge of bankruptcy, he’s game when unscrupulous agent Holubec (Richard Genzer) proposes a complicated plan for their comeback, including a scam in which Milan will pretend to fall gravely ill during a performance.

But before Smoke can catch fire once again, Milan must persuade his former bandmates to get onboard. He and Holubec induce the cooperation of sexy wild man Ota (Marian Geisberg), the lead vocalist, and henpecked guitarist Karel (Miroslav Krobot) by implying that Vasek has a fatal illness, and that his unspoken dying wish is for them to tour again. Meanwhile, further complications ensue as the younger generation gets swept up in the comeback tour. Holubec’s resourceful daughter acts as publicist, producer and den mother, while Vasek’s son (Vojtech Dyk), the heartthrob frontman of popular group Darkwerk, winds up lending his dad’s band some new-audience cachet.

Some of the pic’s funniest bits involve dour Karel, who essentially split the group when he married Yvonne (Zuzana Bydzovska), now a controlling New Age hippie. Other choice moments revolve around tempus fugit moments, including the fact that while Smoke’s music may have shocked the bandmates’ own parents, it’s something their own children laugh at in this era of global capitalism.

This is Nellis’ first film to bring male characters to the fore, and the director adds nuance and subtext by retaining her usual focus on parent-child relationships and the revelation of certain family secrets; it’s a pleasure to watch a popular comedy about something meaningful and substantive. The appealing cast of well-known Czech and Slovak thesps displays superb comic timing as well as musical chops. All the songs performed by Smoke are original, composed for the film by Jan “Ponorka” Ponocny (aka Cirkus Ponorka), who also appears in the film as the band’s new drummer-for-hire.

 Colorfully detailed tech package is first-class.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Revival’

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (noncompeting), July 5, 2013. Running time: 115 MIN.

  • Production: (Czech Republic) A Bonton Film release of an InFilm production, in co-production with Czech TV, RWE, with the support of the Czech State Fund for Czech Cinematography. (International sales: InFilm, Prague.) Produced by Rudolf Biermann.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Alice Nellis. Camera (color, HD), Matej Cibulka; editor, Filip Issa; music, Jan “Ponorka” Ponocny; production designers, Petr Fort, Katrina Holla; sound (Dolby Digital), Viktor Ekrt, Pavel Rejholec, Matthew Gough.
  • With: Boleslav Polivka, Miroslav Krobot, Karel Hermanek, Marian Geisberg, Zuzana Bydzovska, Vojtech Dyk, Richard Genzer, Jenovefa Bokova, Lucie Zackova, Jan “Ponorka” Ponocny. (Czech, English dialogue)
  • Music By: