Beauty in Trouble (Kráska v nesnázích) Directed by: Jan Hrebejk Cast: Anna Geislerová, Roman Luknár, Josef Abrhám, Jana Brejchová Running Time: 1 hr 50 min Rating: Unrated Opens: Dec. 19 in Portland at The Living Room Theaters
Plot: After a flood ravages much of Prague, Jarda (Roman Luknar) starts running a chop shop to support his now destitute family. His wife, Marcela (Anna Geislerova), leaves Jarda after disagreeing about his illegal activities. She moves to her mother's apartment, bringing her children along. This upsets Marcela's stepfather, Richard, who does not appreciate the intrusion of this family into his already cramped apartment. Jarda is arrested after one of his accomplices steals a car belonging to Evzen Benes (Josef Abrham) that's equipped with satellite tracking. Benes offers to aid Marcela financially and get a good lawyer for her husband. Soon the two move in together, leading Marcela to wonder whether she should stay with Benes or return to Jarda.
Who’s It For? Adullts who enjoy foreign films. It's entirely subtitled, so you should be literate too. I wouldn't recommend it for children younger than older teens because though the nudity and language are minor, Richard, Marcela's stepfather, abuses her children emotionally and is pretty creepy.
Expectations: The title, Beauty in Trouble, sounds like one of Anne Rice's older softcore porn novels, but once I learned it was a Czech film starring the lead actress from Zelary I was more interested. Just hoping for an interesting slice of Czech life.
Actors: Anna Geislerova as Marcela: Marcela has more on her plate than the average movie heroine. She has a husband she connects with sexually, but not emotionally, a rich older lover who makes her feel good as a person but whom she doesn't really love, two children who need her, an abusive stepfather and a slightly unbalanced born again mother-in-law. The film is about the relationships between these people and much is expressed in looks and body language. Geislerova opens her face to the camera in a way few American actresses are willing to. Every line on her face is visible (there aren't many, but still) and she expresses much of what she feels through looks and hand gestures. Score: 9
Roman Luknar as Jarda: He's a big dude who doesn't seem into his family but does love Marcela. Luknar exudes the kind of confidence that some big men have, a sense that size alone will allow him to handle any situation. However, this is about all we know about Jarda. He seems a little divorced from her children and his own mother. He serves his purpose to the plot, but ultimately there's not much to him. Score: 6
Jiri Schmitzer as Richard: Marcela's stepfather is one creepy dude. He bullies and harasses her children, behaving like a cruel child. The emotional and metal abuse he inflicts on the kids is creepy, but what's harsher is how the children actually pity him after he is cruel to him. They're more mature and emotionally centered than he is, and they're only preteens. His reaction to this is heartbreaking. He's a monster and a tragic figure at the same time. Not a good guy, but a hell of an interesting character. Score: 9
Talking: I don't really know how to judge dialogue in translation so I guess I'll base my critique on the subtitles. Don't really speak Czech. The characters say a lot while dancing around the truth. Still it works for the film. Score: 7
Sights: I love natural lighting and Beauty in Trouble uses the best of techniques from the Dogme 95 school to make a film that feels like real life. The gloom of Prague contrasts with the sunshine in Tuscany that does more to explain why Marcela makes the choices she actually makes than her words do. Did I mention how much I heart natural lighting? The dinner scene between Marcela and Evzan is dark and romantic in a way that a conventional lighting set up would never allow. Score: 8
Sounds: The film begins with a crazy accordion performer named Raduza as she sings a song about the flood. Initially I thought she was being set up as a troubadour for the film, but she only sings two songs. This is a good thing because although she's the Czech Republic's answer to Pat Benetar, it's not a good answer. Later several songs from the Once soundtrack appear in the song, specifically "Lies" is featured prominently. Though the songs were actually used in Beauty in Trouble first, it was released in the Czech Republic in 2006, the songs are completely linked to Once in my head and their use took me out of the movie. It's hard to fault a guy for using beautiful music, but I'm going to have to. Score: 5
Best Scene: When Marcela's children are hanging out in the bedroom alone, after Richard has exposed himself to her daughter. The kids laugh about Richard and his "slimy" ways while he listens outside the door, furious. It's such a bizarre scene, but just great and fascinating in the way it reveals who these people are.
Ending: Er, what ending. My main complaint with the movie is how it doesn't end. Marcela stays in Italy with Evzan and her children (and Richard, ew) while maintaining contact with Jarda over the phone. She never actually choses one man. Perhaps it's bourgeois of me to expect her to. But I felt like I was left hanging.
Questions: The big one, is Richard the father of Marcela's eldest? It's never said explicitly but hinted at pretty hardcore. Did her mother know what a snake Richard is? Why is Jarda willing to let Marcela go?
Rewatchability: I could see myself seeing this movie again, maybe on DVD with some commentary.
Beauty in Trouble is a complicated movie, for proof look at the plot synopsis above. But the story unfolds in a very interesting way and if there's one thing I value, it's holding my attention. I didn't love the ending, but up until the moment it stopped I kept wondering what direction things were going to go in next. It wasn't perfect but still worth seeing.
Final Score: 7/10