Up and Down
Review Date: 3.29.05
Film reviewers often have in hand, when they write their reviews, a copy of the film’s production notes. These can range from a few pages to many. Sometimes these notes are helpful. Sometimes they amount to no more than a crude hack job pushing the film’s putative accomplishments.
The production notes for the new Czech movie, Up And Down, interest me for what they do not address, namely, what strikes me as the central theme of the film – a pervasive racism gnawing at the heart of the new republic.
Up And Down was shot mostly in the beautiful city of Prague. But much to its credit, the film avoids travelogue cinematography. On the contrary, what we see is a very lived in city. There are relatively few long shots. The camera stays close to most of the action.
If I say that director Jan Hrebejk is part Damon Runyon, part Robert Altman and part Krzysztof Kiesslowski, I mean it as a compliment, because he’s also totally himself. Up And Down weaves at least five stories into a tapestry of urban life in the post Soviet Czech Republic.
Political freedom in Eastern Europe has come at a cost, at least in the eyes of some of the protagonists in this film. Relatively porous borders have resulted in a massive influx of immigrants, legal and otherwise. And a Prague unfamiliar, in recent times, with “diversity” has apparently had a difficult time getting used to it.
Director Hrebejk refuses to pretty things up for us. With the exception of one of the main characters in this large ensemble cast, each is flawed, and some surprisingly so. When the chips are down, even a cultivated human rights worker reveals a strain of bigotry.
Since there are at least five stories unfolding simultaneously and working themselves into the larger story, I’ll not give much away by telling you that the film opens, sort of, with the discovery of a lost infant. Only upon some distance from the film did it occur to me that the ethnicity and circumstance of the infant serves as a metaphor for the contemporary Czech Republic.
So, while you’re watching this one, and I highly recommend that you do see this film, follow the infant. And in general, keep an eye on generational differences. At the risk of possibly reading too much into the paraphernalia that decorates the realistic sets, take a close look at the logo for the local football team, an institution that seems to have generated an unhealthy fanaticism among more than a few of the citizenry.
Up And Down is not a bleak movie. The director has an eye for the quietly comic. His characters may not experience the Hollywood epiphanic moments we Americans are used to in our films, but they are not without humor. And in most of them, we discover now and then, a vulnerability that makes the least of them loveable, if not humane.
Up And Down probably won’t be around for long. It should be, but I’m guessing it won’t. So see it soon, or you’ll have to wait for the video. Up And Down is playing at The Nickelodeon Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.