Up And Down

Weaving together the stories of a disparate group of men and women in contemporary Prague, director Jan Hrebejk presents a generous slice of life in the newly free and increasingly multicultural Czech Republic. What begins as just another night for two Czechs who smuggle undocumented Slovakian refugees across the border turns into something a bit more complicated...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Weaving together the stories of a disparate group of men and women in contemporary Prague, director Jan Hrebejk presents a generous slice of life in the newly free and increasingly multicultural Czech Republic. What begins as just another night for two Czechs who smuggle undocumented Slovakian refugees across the border turns into something a bit more complicated when, shortly after dumping their human cargo, they realize that something has been left in the back of their truck: a baby. Returning to the seedy Prague pawn shop from which their boss, Eman (Pavel Liska), runs his petty criminal empire, the smugglers hand the infant over to Eman's mother, who sets about trying to sell it on the black market. She finds a buyer in Mila (Natasa Burger), who desperately wants to be a mother but can neither bear her own child nor adopt. Mila's reformed soccer-hooligan husband, Franka (Jiri Machacek), who has a criminal record and is still on probation, panics when he learns that she's not only bought a black-market baby but has bought one who, as far as Franka and his skinhead cronies are concerned, is literally black. The baby's real mother, meanwhile, turns to the refugee center for help in finding her child. Hanka (Ingrid Timkova), who works in the center, is having her own family crisis. Her elderly significant other, Oto (Jan Triska), has a malignant brain tumor and wants to put his affairs in order, which means divorcing Vera (Emilia Vasaryova), the first wife he left 20 years earlier and reuniting with their son, Martin (Petr Forman, the son of Czech director Milos Forman). Apprehensive but willing, Martin returns to Prague from his new home in Australia. But Vera, still bitter over having been dumped for a much younger woman and enraged that Oto's fortunes have flourished in the post-Soviet era while her own life — and her predominantly immigrant neighborhood — have changed for the worse, steadfastly refuses to grant Oto's dying wish. While Hrebejk's Oscar-nominated Holocaust feature DIVIDED WE FALL (2000) was ultimately compromised by a misplaced sentimentality, he shows admirable restraint here, particularly when it comes to painting too rosy a picture of his country's future. It's significant that the interracial fantasy that closes the film takes place in Brisbane, while back in Prague, Franka and his racist cohorts chant ugly epithets and seem stronger than ever. Casting a wide net while remaining thematically coherent, Hrebejk's film remains clear-eyed and satisfyingly complex right to the bitter end.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Weaving together the stories of a disparate group of men and women in contemporary Prague, director Jan Hrebejk presents a generous slice of life in the newly free and increasingly multicultural Czech Republic. What begins as just another night for two Cze… (more)

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