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KARLOVY VARY 2018 Competition

Review: Winter Flies

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- KARLOVY VARY 2018: Olmo Omerzu's third feature is an accomplished and engaging combination of boys' adventure and gritty Central European drama

Review: Winter Flies
Eliška Křenková, Jan František Uher and Tomáš Mrvík in Winter Flies

Slovenian-born, Prague-based director Olmo Omerzu's third film, Winter Flies [+see also:
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, is a somewhat unexpected mix of a buddy road movie and a growing-up story, harking back both to the kids' adventure films of the 1980s and to recent Central European arthouse flicks. It has world-premiered in Karlovy Vary's competition.

Two friends, 14-year-old Marek (Tomáš Mrvík) and 12-year-old Heduš (Jan František Uher), are going on a joyride across the country in an old, stolen Audi. At this age, a difference of two years is clearly visible: Marek has the look and attitude of a young hooligan, with his shaved head and constant bragging about fantastic sexual escapades. Heduš, on the other hand, is a chubby kid sporting camouflage trousers and a BB gun, with dreams of joining the Foreign Legion. And Marek is incredibly proud of his war-hero grandfather, who he claims is a big shot in the Defence Department, with a direct line to NATO.

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As they drive through the winter countryside, they save a mongrel from drowning, and now they have a new companion. When they encounter the young, pretty hitchhiker Bara (Eliška Křenková), all of those pubescent-boy hormones start going wild, and the two imagine various crazy scenarios in which “she will put out for sure”. But it will hardly come as a surprise to the audience when she locks herself in the car for the night while the boys end up sharing a sleeping bag by a campfire on the cold winter ground.

Separately from the plot of their journey, Marek is being interrogated in a police station, and editor Jana Vlčková cuts in parallel between the road-trip plot and what Marek decides to tell the policewoman, so that we see how he is protecting his friend (he says he was alone the whole time), but also maintaining his tough attitude and continuing with his stories of womanising. But here, in the police station, the boy is faced with reality, and he simply cannot defeat it. 

Omerzu manages to evoke the boys' adventure films of the 1980s, but in the context of Central Europe and with a winter setting instead of a summer one. When this is coupled with the young leads' heartfelt and natural performances, what we get is less of the bittersweet feeling usually associated with the growing-up movies that Hollywood used to make so well some 30 years ago, and more of a feel of the tough, gritty coming-of-age dramas that have been coming out of the region in recent years. The balance between the two approaches that Omerzu strikes is impressive, and while we are following the adventure, we are also acutely aware of its social and human implications. There is a good dose of magic in Marek and Heduš' journey, but there are also very realistic, harsh pitfalls. However open the ending is, its vibe is exhilaratingly positive, and it was the right decision on Omerzu's part to swing that way, rather than opting to let muddy misery come to the fore every step of the way during this wintry film.

Winter Flies is a co-production by Czech company Endorfilm and the country's national broadcaster Czech Television, Slovenia's Cvinger Film, Poland's Koskino and Slovakia's Punkchart Films. Cercamon has the international rights.

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