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Movie Review: Beauty in Trouble (Kraska v nesnazich)

Ugly Czech realities are on stark display in this 'Beauty'
Beauty in Trouble (Kraska v nesnazich)
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 110 min
MPAA rating: Unrated
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

At first glance, the beauty in trouble in “Beauty in Trouble” seems to be a redhead named Marcela. She's hot stuff, wearing eye-grabbing garb and rocking the posts of her sturdy old bed. And she's definitely got problems: Her husband is a car thief with idiotic partners, and their asthmatic son coughs his way through the mold that has been growing since their house was flooded a year ago.

Then you realize the “beauty” director Jan Hrebejk and writer Petr Jarchovský are talking about is the Czech Republic, ravaged for decades by communism and then left to fend for itself in a world to which it can scarcely adjust.

The title comes from a funny, bitter poem by Robert Graves about a woman who flies from distress to the arms of a kindly lover, only to throw him over at last for a gutter-minded hellion who exerts a spell over her body.

On one level, that's the story of Marcela (Ana Geislerová), who leaves her criminal husband (Roman Luknár) and slips into the arms of the older, kinder entrepreneur whose car he has stolen (Josef Abrhám). This gentle Benes has inherited a vineyard from parents who escaped communism and fled to Italy long ago. He invites Marcela and her kids to join him there, and she repays him with her body.

Yet this tale is just as much about the shysters, connivers and compromisers in Benes' old homeland. While he's lived in paradise – or, at least, a place the Czechs think of as heaven – people perverted by totalitarianism have made a small hell for each other in Prague. Even the seemingly kindly woman in Benes' old house, who became a tenant when the state appropriated it years ago, tries to cheat him out of that property after the government gives it back to him.

The characters' suspicious natures and venality get in the way of their good intentions, and the elder generation – brainwashed by communism and taught to obey authority without questioning it – provides no guidance for people in their 30s who go astray. Nor can everybody run off to the West to achieve prosperity.

The movie begins with a flood that threatens Prague literally; it ends with a flood of emotions that threaten to undermine a potentially happy relationship. The “beauty” in these lives will be under assault for a long time to come.

P.S. Fans of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová may wonder what the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” (from “Once”) is doing on the soundtrack to “Beauty.” The answers: Irglová comes from the Czech Republic, and this film came out before “Once.”

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04/16/2009 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

A Czech woman must choose between romantic options in this humorous, sad and satirical political allegory.

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