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Return of the Prodigal Son

Posted by martinteller on January 5, 2013

Jan (Jan Kacer) has attempted suicide.  He has a beautiful wife, Jana (Jana Berjchová) and little girl, a productive job as an architect… and yet, for reasons he can’t quite explain, he feels life isn’t worth living.  The film follows him as he goes in and out of the hospital (and in and out again), trying to find happiness.  His wife carries on an affair with their friend Jirí (played by another Czech New Wave director, Jirí Menzel) but Jan himself has something going on with the hospital director’s wife (Dana Medrická).  All of it seems meaningless, but there are fleeting moments of joy to be had.

Evald Schorm takes a less surreal approach than his short in the Pearls of the Deep portmanteau, and the more realist style seems to suit him better.  As a study of depression, this is farther from the abstractions of Une homme qui dort and much more in the realm of Le feu follet (or the recent adaptation of the same novel, Oslo August 31st).  There is no interior monologue, no subjective camera… nothing to attempt to place us inside Jan’s consciousness.  We only watch as he — and those around him — struggle to connect with each other.

Much as I struggled to connect with this film.  I can’t really find fault with it.  The performances are fine, the cinematography quite accomplished.  It doesn’t strike any false notes, and I found it a rather honest exploration of depression.  It neither wallows in how awful life is nor glorifies how beautiful it is and how it shouldn’t be wasted.  There are some intriguing little moments and structurally it feels sound.  But for whatever reason, I developed a “Let’s get on with it” restlessness during the film.  Perhaps the sunglasses that Jan frequently hides behind made it too difficult for me to relate to his character.  Perhaps I was put off by the somewhat casual treatment of infidelity.  Or maybe, feeling a bit depressed myself lately, I just wasn’t in the mood for it.  If that’s the case, there may be more to this movie than I’m giving it credit for.  As it is, however, it’s a well-made piece of work that unfortunately didn’t “do” a lot for me.  Rating: Good (70)

IMDb
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