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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2018

GoCritic! Review: Domestique


- Our Marija Jeremić says this Karlovy Vary competition title is a delicately balanced film that sometimes risks crossing the border between excellence and pretension

GoCritic! Review: Domestique

The Czech-Slovakian co-production Domestique [+see also:
film review
interview: Adam Sedlák
film profile
by writer-director Adam Sedlák is an ambitious psychological drama. Roman (Jiří Konvalinka) is a professional cyclist obsessed with the sport whereas his wife Šarlota (Tereza Hofová) works at a school and is focused on getting pregnant. As the film progresses, Roman becomes fixated on his health, but Charlotte is the one feeling the physical consequences of his doping. It is as if they were one body. The film is Sedlák’s feature debut.

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The exquisite opening sequence is an excellent example of subtle foreshadowing. As Roman trains in his room, the camera focuses on his hands ‒ a top-down close-up suggesting that he will be the decision-maker in the film. In the next shot the camera is already moving away from Roman into a narrow corridor demonstrating the claustrophobic confinements of the drama. When Šarlota enters and moves towards the camera, the focus stays on Roman in the background, as if his wife was not deserving of any attention. Roman’s breathing then transcends the scene and becomes a disturbing soundtrack to the entire opening sequence. There is a punk vibe to the first sequence because the film immediately establishes a fast-paced rhythm of characterization.

There is an unaddressed ambiguity in Domestique regarding the comparison between Roman becoming a junkie and Charlotte’s obsession with getting pregnant. It is not completely clear how the two mental fragilities compare and if it is possible to compare them at all. Whatever the reason for the parallel, Charlotte’s obsession starts off rather slowly and, in the end, turns into something disturbingly sad. It is always in the shadow of Roman secretly doping. If this is intentional, then Sedlák’s subtle guidance deserves praise.

The same applies to Roman’s bed that turns into an oxygen-depriving tent which is supposed to help him get into better shape. The metaphor is initially distracting for the simple reason that the tent-bed looks futuristic. It is not out of character for Roman to have it, that much is true, but it doesn’t match the uninteresting setting of the apartment. This is, however, the point — the tent-bed represents a ridiculous fixation by Roman that eventually leads to a collective sickness. Not even the bed, a metaphor for comfort and freedom in a marriage, is safe anymore.

The most intriguing, if at times predictable, moments in the film are the scenes in which Roman and Šarlota dine together, which show the destruction of a marriage from the inside. Something is eating them up, from the inside. The motifs of decay and consumption are extended from the dining scenes to shots of oral sex, nails breaking, Šarlota shaving Roman’s legs, Roman injecting himself with dope, a scene of Šarlota's period blood spread on the back of her trackpants…

It takes Sedlák at least 20 minutes to conclude the film and when he finally does it is not as straightforward as the build-up would have you expect. A minimalist film focused on miniature details in order to convey bodily decay ends in a sort of symbolic black hole that leads us nowhere. Domestique is a delicately balanced film that sometimes risks crossing the border between excellence and pretension.

*Marija Jeremić's participation in GoCritic! is co-financed by Film Centre Serbia

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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