Up and Down



Laura Clifford 
Up and Down
Robin Clifford 
An immigrant to Australia returns to his home in the Czech Republic where his mother, Vera (Emília Vásáryová) laments that she lives amidst immigrants.  Martin (Petr Forman, "Frank Herbert's Dune") has returned to see his father, Otto (Jan Triska, "Zelary"), a professor who recently suffered a collapse in class.  Otto now lives with the much younger Hana (Ingrid Timková), who works aiding immigrants to their country.  Meanwhile, an Indian baby lost while its parents were being smuggled over the border ends up with Mila (Natasa Burger), a woman pining for a child, and her security guard boyfriend Franta (Jirí Machácek), whose best buddy, Colonel (Jaroslav Dusek, "Zelary"), hates the color of its skin in the Czech Republic's 2004 Foreign Language Oscar submission, "Up and Down."

Laura:
Cowriter (with Petr Jarchovský)/director Jan Hrebejk ("Divided We Fall") takes a contemporary look at his country for the first time and doesn't have much good to say.  His only likable character is unjustly punished over and over while the venal, selfish, racist and weak ones seem to get along just fine, making this purported 'comedy' low on laughs.

Martin doesn't have the guts to reveal his Australian family's background to his mother, a 'surprise' revelation Hrebejk ends his film with in a happy little scene which is perhaps meant to be upbeat but instead just shows Martin's spinelessness.  Vera is a bitter, alcoholic racist.  Otto is an imperious egotist and Hana is a snob who was supposed to immigrate to Australia with Martin but instead chose the financial security of his father.  Meanwhile Mila is so besotted with maternity that she attempts to steal a baby from the very amusement park where Franta is employed - not too smart or too considerate. Only the big lug Franta, whose prior arrest for soccer hooliganism denies them a legal adoption, has a heart.

What ties these two stories together are a couple of thieves who the cops continue to release right back into the streets where they victimize foreigners.  They also lift Martin's wallet in a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but it's Franta, who tries to chase down the robbers, who is held for the crime.  This has dire consequences for Mila's motherhood and Franta ends up backsliding into the group of rabid soccer skinheads that an Indian baby and inherent decency had helped him rise above.

From what Hrebejk appears to say, it looks like the Czech Republic has many of the same problems as reunited Germany, but his comic roundabout approach diffuses his statement, if indeed this is his statement - it's hard to tell. His 2001 Foreign Language Oscar nominee, the WWII fable, "Divided We Fall," also had its themes focused around a woman who desired a child, but it was a much more focused and accomplished piece of work. Hrebejk is more clear-sighted looking back than forward.

The film's title, which doesn't seem to mean much of anything, is taken from the name of a toy in Vera's collection of kitsch (Martin brings her a wind-up plastic hand as a coming home gift).

C-

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.

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