Review: Another Chance
by Vladan Petkovic
- Eva Tomanová's new documentary is an intriguing and accomplished story about a marriage fraudster, and an older woman in love with and pregnant by him
The new film by Czech investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Eva Tomanová (best known for the 2015 IDFA title Always Together [+see also:
film profile]), Another Chance, won the Special Jury Award in the Czech Competition at the recent One World International Documentary Film Festival in Prague, where it also world-premiered.
Another Chance opens with a courtroom scene in which the judge reads out the charges against Mirek, a man in his late twenties who has scammed a number of women for substantial amounts of money by feigning romantic interest. Meanwhile, Monika, in her late thirties or early forties, with a young son and a daughter in her early teens, is having an ultrasound of what is to be her third child – whose father is Mirek.
Monika is very much in love with Mirek, and her eyes well up with tears as she reads one of his love letters. We realise that she is not completely blind to her boyfriend's misdeeds when she visits him in jail and demands his reassurance that he will stop lying. His slightly irritated reaction indicates what the court psychologist will deduce prior to delivering the six-and-a-half-year sentence: Mirek is a manipulative egocentric with low frustration tolerance and underdeveloped higher emotional needs.
So why would Monika believe for one second that he is not going to swindle her as well? Among myriad possible reasons is also the fact that when she discovered she was HIV-positive and it turned out she had not contracted it from Mirek, who had not got it either, he asked her to marry him.
After Mirek's sentence is passed, something shifts in their relationship – or, rather, in Monika's outlook, which first changes after she gives birth to a healthy baby girl. Tormented by the uncertainty created by Mirek being away for so long and the debts he will have to pay back once he is out of prison, Monika slips into a depression. Her letters are no longer romantic; they express frustration and concern. After she visits him with their child, and he queries not being listed as the father (which they had agreed upon for financial reasons) and starts threatening her with lawyers, awaiting his release becomes something that Monika dreads, rather than looks forward to.
The two snippets of a prison interview that Tomanová conducted with Mirek clearly differ from the rest of the film. Shot through the bars of the cell in the semi-dark, and with the man's head now shaved, it reveals a character concurrent with the psychologist's evaluation. He dismisses the women he has scammed as “dumb” and quips that “there are still plenty of options out there”.
Tomanová opts for a straightforward form of storytelling, with Monika's physical and psychological changes, and their daughter’s growing up, serving as time markers. This makes the emotional dynamics very clear, almost like in a well-mapped-out fiction film, which does make the viewer wonder about the process behind selecting and editing the content that ended up in the finished film. But it is a multilayered story in which nothing is black or white: Monika also comes across as bitter, selfish and judgemental. In the end, Another Chance is an engaging film with an intriguing topic, and protagonists who are far from likeable, but they are given fair treatment with their complex characters and tricky relationship.
Another Chance is a Czech production by Prague-based Endorfilm, and the international rights are still available.
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