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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Feature: Scouting for the link between two hot Karlovy Vary titles

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- A first-time visitor probes the unlikely connection that unites the Czech festival’s oldest feature and its hottest new presentation.

GoCritic! Feature: Scouting for the link between two hot Karlovy Vary titles
Svatopluk Innemann's Be Prepared!

Be Prepared!, a 1923 feature about the early Scout movement in what was then Czechoslovakia, came to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in a freshly restored version ready for everything… except for the midsummer heat. The film, titled after the Scouts’ famous motto, had a single screening scheduled at the city's Municipal Theatre. Nestled a short walk from the thermal springs which are the spa’s raison d’être this grand edifice known for its decoration by artists such as Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch, not for its ventilation system.

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In spite of that, I found myself there at 1pm on sunny Monday afternoon, prepared to discover all there was to know about inter-war Czechoslovak Scouts. Director Svatopluk Innemann's film was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a propaganda piece with everything the genre entails: sloganeering, clear archetypes and unwavering support of the organisation it depicts.

The Czech Scouts' PR representative was present at the screening, but if any actual members were, they chose to forego their motto and stayed firmly in their seats when disaster struck. The truth is nobody was “prepared” for the celluloid to actually burst into flames, leaving only a blank screen and a very surprised duo of musicians - who were providing live electronic accompaniment.

Far from being a Scout, I was concerned for several reasons, the most urgent of which being my location right next to the projection-booth. It was therefore in my best interests that a fire didn't ignite there. The people in charge appeared and seemed to reassure everyone that all was fine - "seemed" being the keyword here, since the announcement was done solely in Czech. The technical problem was eventually remedied and the film – informative, functional, and overall not bad for a 96-year-old artefact - played out to its conclusion.

Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite

Although it didn't reach the same incendiary mercury-levels, the heat inside the press screening of Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite the following day was also something to reckon with. Red-hot since its Cannes win, the socio-economic satire was seen by a roomful of critics, not all of whom were necessarily going to review it, but were primarily in attendance to see what all the fuss was about.

Funnily enough, one of the younger characters in Bong’s prickly provocation also happened to be a Scout. Not that this really mattered in the end: he also wasn't “prepared” for a family of social climbers to make his way into his parents’ luxurious residence and eventually ruin his birthday party. A plot point that depended on his alleged knowledge of Morse code also went nowhere, perhaps because he missed the one summer camp in which it was taught. Tough business having to be prepared at all times, I suppose.

At the end of the day, the harsh reality in which the characters of Parasite exist doesn't leave much room for Scout Law. Honesty, loyalty and courtesy are hard to keep when the fight for a better quality of life gets in the way. With Be Prepared!, there's the clear understanding that most of the people depicted are rich. Parasite goes the extra mile by showing us both sides of the social divide and establishing their codependency, all the way up to its bloody climax.

By the time it reaches this boiling point, one guy in the press-show audience was audibly using a baseball cap as a makeshift fan to keep himself cool — proving that, no matter how interesting a film is, the conditions of the room in which it’s seen always matter. No Scout in either of the productions seemed to have a handy solution for heat, but I guess it helps if you avoid packed cinemas during summer heatwaves. Yet somehow, we cinephiles persist.

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