Up and Down (Horem Pádem) ~ (Czech Republic, 2004) ~ DVD

Set in Prague (with a detour to Australia), this sometimes comic, sometimes tragic film rips the veil from life in today’s Czech Republic. There are two main narrative threads. The first concerns two immigrant smugglers who find an infant left behind in their truck after a human smuggling run and end up selling the child to a childless couple, who have long wanted one. At least the wife does. The father is more wrapped in soccer and his soccer hooligan friends. This thread focuses on racism and is a macro look at modern Czech society.

The second thread is a more intimate, a more micro look at the people who inhabit this society. Here the film moves to the complicated dynamics of a family. The patriarch academic has taken a lover-partner after having left his wife in the tumultuous aftermath of WWII. Never divorced, his wife accompanies her son to a meeting with his father, whom he has not seen most of his life., having earlier emigrated to Australia. The father lives with a much younger woman and their teenage daughter in the house his former wife lived in with him. Interestingly enough, this dynamic very much reminded me of a film I saw at TIFF last year, Cirkus Columbia.

The first thread is broad and expansive, serious themes matched up with a nearly slap-stick comic mood. The second story is gentler, subtle…tragic even. They compliment each other  perfectly. History as told through the lives of individuals. It’s a common motif in the arts: cinema, literature. When done right, it’s can give a powerful sense of who we are and where we stand. In this case, the film mostly holds up to that standard.

The phrase up and down captures the knack of the film to hit the highs and lows of the society of focus – both in its serious highs and humorous lows.

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