2009 Czech Republic. Director Jaroslav Fuit. Starring Kristyna Novakova & Jakub Wagner
This was the fourth and final FACT instalment of the Czech Film Festival package which seems to be 'touring' the country in March and April. I don't know if there is only one reel available of each – whether this one was wound up, packed in a box and posted off to Edinburgh, but I quite hope so – in the interests of quaintness I think that would be for the best.
If true, the contents of the box in Dvojka's case will be far less charming than the process it is being transported by. Harshly filmed, road-trip gone bad, relationship-turned-sour, featuring three pretty unlikeable characters, with a glumly inconclusive and uncathartic ending, set in wintery Scandinavia.....although it has plenty of admirable qualities, attractiveness is certainly not one: Quaint It Aint.
The film is extremely modern in most ways, and the sparse, unfinessed camera work (the whole film has an 'untreated' look to it, similar to the lack of sheen you get on Deleted Scene features) and this dovetails very well with the grey, washed out buildings and scenery that make up the backdrop to a couple who have been together for five years ill-fatedly deciding to take a holiday together to attempt reinvigoration. The crashing boredom and over-familiarity which necessitates this is very well demonstrated in the opening ten minutes. Jakub Wagner as Michal works alone in a soullessly bland office, spends his money on a new TV and Playstation for his similarly ascetic flat, where his girlfriend Veronika (Kristyna Novakova) mopes aloof and frustrated – their only interaction being her acting as selector (by shouting 'stop' at random) of which team he is going to play as on Fifa.
As they lay totally disconnected in bed later on, with her asleep we can see the cogs in Michal's frustrated mind turn as he lies awake and comes to the decision that this is a crisis and something must be done. The next day he wittily uses the same method as earlier to have Veronika unknowingly choose the destination for the holiday which both unspeakingly realise is make-or-break for them.
Sweden picked as the destination, Michal hurriedly books & pays online for accommodation and after bland discussion over how many pairs of boxers should be packed, hopes and spirits rise fractionally and they set-off in her dad's car to catch the ferry. Predictably, but believably, the journey is doomed from its inception – a knowing quip by the would-be-father-in-law about a "roomy" backseat nixes Michal later on when he feels uncomfortable and unable to have sex in the car. Before they get to that point, more mishaps strike: A tyre bursts and Michal is unable to fix it – assistance has to be sought from a trucker, to irritation all round; the last ferry of the day has already left when they arrive; and disastrously when they arrive at their destination he realises that his hurried internet booking has only resulted in fuelling a scammer – and the sizeable sum he has paid is lost. With nowhere to stay and Veronika mocking him for his ineffectiveness, she goes to sleep in the back of the car. Michal then for the second time briefly steps and takes charge of the situation (driving through the night to re-start the break in Copenhagen) only to again undermine his good work (acting the misery-arse, whining at her for buying postcards, and being a sulky idiot).
She leaves him alone to mope into his "not good" kebab and can of Coke, then trudge back to the white-washed motel, whilst she goes off to enjoy herself – latching on to a group in a seedy bar, treating stranger to drinks on Michal's credit card and flirting with a 'cool' fellow Czech, who returns Veronika, senseless with drink, to the motel. He then uses his "streetwise" nous to wangle payment for the taxi, room for the night and, eventually, a ride in the car for the directionless next stage of the twosome's expedition.
The best way of describing Simon, the drifter, is as very much in the Super-Hans tradition. His vices and general behaviour (constant drinking, shop-lifting, denouncing Michal's choice of music as "wanker's tunes", general lasciviousness and sudden switches in character) are all very similar. In fact, you wonder whether the director has followed Peep Show – at a push the entire picture could be seen as a film version of Mark taking Sophie on a doomed excursion, and the bleakness of the situation leading them to unwisely pick-up Super Hans (Simon is too unlikable and cynical to be Jeremy) .
The next few days are slow torture for Michal, as his flaws are exaggerated by the new-comers flighty, capricious approach and he is made to look square, impotent, fussy and old in comparison. Simon takes them all to a beach-house, deserted at this time of year and belonging to an associate. Bike trips, swimming, visits to the nearest town are all just further opportunities for Michal to look worn-out and a lost cause. Simon's ascendency is hardly unchecked: he very murkily almost overseas the robbery of their car, arranges a meeting in a dive where Veronika is harassed, inexplicably is found to carry a gun ("gunny"?), and confesses to "sucking off a horrible, smelly Turkish truckdriver" to get a ride in the past.
Despite this less-than-stellar CV, Veronika is so disillusioned with her long-term partner's relentless glowering that the attraction between her and Simon quickly escalates. Things reach a nadir when Michal – who has constantly chided his girl-friend for her partiality to alcohol – is driven to take his "first drink for a year", and, after downing bottle of vodka, produces a master-class in self-embarrassment. He slurs insults at the other two, swears, sings, sweats and shows himself up to the extent that he jumps on the couch pulls his pants down and encourages Simon to repeat his Turkish truck driver's treat. Finished, spectacularly, he retreats to bed and for the first time the growing magnetism between the other two moves up a level, and they have sex and fall asleep intertwined on the couch.
Michal comes down the next morning, sees what he must have feared to be inevitable, and realising he had fuelled it with his pathetic display the night before takes himself off to the sea. Waking up Veronika is regretful, dismissive of Simon's suggestion that they take-off together and the sense of emptiness for all concerned is overwhelming. Simon slopes off to presumably move on to the next free-ride, and the other two head back silently, resentfully, bleakly bound for home and a division of their belongings – she is to move out.
No redemption and no 'new direction', just a glum drift apart. This was though, a very enjoyable 90 minutes with glimmers of humour and tenderness flecked amid the overall drabness. It was very realistic, with moments especially when Michal's constant awkwardness made you want to scream "mate, stop being such a dick" at him. He is too easily duped into letting the chancer into their world, initially against his girl-friend's advice ("I don't feel comfortable with him around") – but they both seem to dread being left alone together so much that he is grudgingly allowed to become a permanent third-wheel. Veronika doesn't cover herself in glory, sleeping with Simon even after ridiculing at his flagrantly insincere pre-sex patter, drinking like a fish throughout the whole film and nit-picking and sniping. Simon is a terrible man, espousing a vacuous 'go with the flow' approach to life ("don't think of it as stealing – tell yourself you're just borrowing the shop's stuff") and fleaseing everyone he meets.
As I said, not much in terms of a hero in the characters, although the director Fuit deserves to be seen as something along these lines for keeping the intrigue and authenticity up throughout such a depressing chain of events. The white/grey, sanitary, hand-held camera tone is perfect for the story, and the sound-track is great too – although I haven't been able to track down any details. However I did find out this:
According to the Reflex magazine's Jan Hřebejks annual survey, this debut was declared the third most successful new Czech feature film of 2009.
And what higher praise could there be?