The village dramedy is a perennial staple of the Czech cinema, and in “Nowhere in Moravia,” noted thesp and theater director Miroslav Krobot puts his own darkly humorous stamp on the genre. Cast mostly with thesps from his prizewinning Dejvice Theater in Prague, who perform in the local dialect, this loose narrative centers on the lives of those who dwell in the isolated Jesenik Mountains of the former Sudetenland, a place of harsh beauty and an even harsher lifestyle. Following its world premiere in competition at Karlovy Vary, Krobot’s debut feature opens domestically on July 24; offshore, festivals will be the best bet for this quiet slice of life.
The central character is earthy thirtysomething Maruna (Tatiana Vilhelmova). A former German teacher who now runs the local pub, she has returned to her family home for reasons that are never specified. Maruna shares the house and the care of her spiteful, ailing mother (Johanna Tesarova) with her sister Jaruna (Lenka Krobotova, the helmet’s daughter), a nurse.
Eligible men are few and far between, but Maruna, who appears to have quite an active libido, is carrying on with Jura (Ivan Trojan), the indecisive mayor, who spends most of his time in a hunting blind waiting for a big stag. She also enjoys the occasional romp with promiscuous young roofer Kodl (Lukas Latinak, who calls to mind the merry womanizers of Jiri Menzel’s village comedies) and even lets naive gravedigger Olin (Jaroslav Plesl) cop a feel every now and then in exchange for his adoration and willingness to paint her pantry.
Maruna’s sexual forthrightness has a grotesque mirror in “Lad’a’s Old Lady” (Simona Babcakova), a slatternly, hard-drinking forest worker who shares a derelict shack with two brutal brothers, Ladin (Hynek Cermak) and Balin (David Novotny). Known only by her moniker, she seems up for a roll in the hay with anyone who wants her.
Over the course of the film, three deaths and several departures lessen the population of the already sparsely inhabited village. (Given the events of the story, it makes sense that the church graveyard becomes almost as important a location as the pub.) Czech audiences will certainly recognize the eccentric characters, starchy cuisine and black humor offered up here, though other viewers may prefer a bit more narrative to go with the atmosphere.
In contrast with compatriot helmer Bohdan Slama’s beloved “The Wild Bees,” most of the characters here don’t appear inclined to move elsewhere, despite the hardships and lack of opportunities they face. Some, like the hobo Stinky (Martin Mysicka), survive even without a roof over their head. The underlying message that helmer Krobot and his co-screenwriter Lubomir Smekal are trying to convey seems to be, simply, that life goes on.
Vilhelmova, who took up her role shortly after giving birth, is a standout in the all-around convincing cast; she exudes a womanly appeal without a trace of glamour. The ubiquitous Trojan (“In the Shadow”) is equally fine, and almost unrecognizable in an atypical role and beard.
Lensing in sharp focus, d.p. Jan Baset Stritezsky (who also shot the concurrent Karlovy Vary entry “Fair Play”) captures the rough, isolated majesty of the region, while editor Jan Danhel (who cut all Slama’s films) respects the slower rural rhythms and adjusts the film’s accordingly. Other tech credits are fine.