by Theodore Schwinke
- Two detective stories in one, this slow-burning Czech thriller challenges audiences' expectations of its characters and filmmakers Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovský
When we talk about innocence, the human quality, we usually use it with words like “preserved” or “lost”. We like to think that innocence is a natural state; if it is, it's fragile and fleeting. In the new film from director Jan Hrebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský, innocence doesn't stand a snowflake's chance in hell.
Most of the characters in Innocence [+see also:
interview: Jan Hrebejk
film profile] have lost (or thrown away) their innocence by the time we meet them. Tomáš (Ondrej Vetchý) is a doctor married to Milada (Zita Morávková). They live together with their daughter (Rebeka Lizlerová), Milada's sister Lída (Anna Geislerová) and father (Ludek Munzar).
Outside this family circle are Milada's ex-husband Láda (Hynek Cermák) and their developmentally-disabled son, with whom they share custody. Láda is a sad sack who finds joy only in the bittersweet task of caring for his son and in the shadow of love he feels for his ex-wife.
Láda's specialty is crimes against children, so when Tomáš is accused of sexually abusing his 14-year-old patient Olinka (Anna Linhartová), he takes the case. Any man with an iota of self-preservation would recognize the conflict of interest, but not Láda, who will take any opportunity to remain relevant to Milada.
Tomáš is ultimately acquitted of the charges but the investigation strains the family – particularly Lída – to the breaking point. Another plot surfaces in the second half of the film and a justice of sorts plays out.
Vetchý plays the unflappable doctor with just enough of his trademark smirk to let the audience know that he holds a secret. Geislerová's Lída suffers from arrested development, at ease only when she plays the clown for children in Tomáš' hospital. Otherwise she is an awkward third wheel to Tomáš and Milada.
Linhartová plays Olinka as an truculent schemer who will either bend the adult world to her desires or make it fall. If Linhartová can escape her physical similarity to Geislerová and explore roles that challenge her as an actress, her natural star quality could make her a serious European talent.
The real stars of the film, however, are Cermák and Morávková. Morávková's star turn comes in a scene in which Milada confronts Láda with his failures as a husband. For a moment, she looks ready literally to bite his head off. Láda breaks down afterwards, his ex-wife's outburst merely the last straw of the unbearable load of cruelty he encounters in his work.
The filmmakers found their inspiration in real-life events in the Czech Republic but could just as easily have taken a page from Nabokov. They were, they said, initially tempted to examine how a private life becomes public through the media, much as they did in Kawasaki's Rose [+see also:
film profile], but in the end remained focused on interpersonal relations.
And was the case with Kawasaki's Rose, Innocence is not an easy audience film. While neither shocking nor austere, this detective story has more of the arthouse than the gumshoe in it. Every film by Hrebejk and Jarchovský is at least moderately successful at the domestic box office, so the duo has audience capital to invest in a film that might appeal more to festivals. The question remains whether festivals will miss in the new film the distinctive Czech accent of the filmmakers' previous works.
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