Beauty in Trouble (Menemsha Films, NR)

dvd_beauty-in-trouble.gifThe film is built from a series of short scenes, a technique that allows the story to unfold gradually as the connections among the characters are revealed.

 

 

 

Beauty in Trouble is a delightful film of a type which is as recognizably European as Hollywood studios pictures of the 1930s and 1940s were distinctively American. It tells an intelligent story about characters complex enough to surprise you while remaining emotionally coherent. It assumes a certain literacy from the audience, as well: How many American films have you seen lately which draw their inspiration from a Robert Graves poem?

The central character is the beautiful Marcela Čmolíková (Aňa Geislerová), who maintains a fiercely positive outlook on life despite many misfortunes. Unexpectedly pregnant, she married in haste and now has little in common with her husband, Jarda (Roman Luknár), beyond a pronounced and mutual sexual attraction. The family is flooded out of their home and moves to a room over her husband’s chop shop.

Living at close quarters gets on everyone’s nerves and Marcela takes the kids to live with her mother (Jana Brejchová), which has the unfortunate effect of bringing them into daily contact with her amazingly creepy stepfather (Jiří Schmitzer). He’s jealous of sharing his space and retaliates by berating the kids about eating his diabetic cookies, exposing himself to her adolescent daughter (Michaela Mrviková) and provoking her son into an asthma attack. The crowning blow comes when her husband is caught dismantling a car equipped with the satellite equivalent of Lo-Jack and is sent to prison.

Or maybe that was Marcela’s lucky day. The stolen car belongs to the wealthy expat Evžen Beneš  (Josef Abrhám), who plays the role of the good angel to Jarda’s bad angel as in the Robert Graves poem which provides the movie’s title: "Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel/ On whom she can rely/ To pay her cab-fare, run a steaming bath/ Poultice her bruised eye." He allows Marcela and her kids to stay in an apartment he owns and a romantic relationship develops between them. Evžen’s an impeccably nice guy, but that’s part of the problem: The bad angel offers passionate fulfillment which the good angel can never give her.

The film is built from a series of short scenes which at first seem disconnected, a technique that allows the story to unfold gradually as the connections among the characters are revealed. It never feels like a stunt, though; even the minor characters have depth and the web of relationships is entirely plausible. Beauty in Trouble ends with a question mark: Will Marcela choose the good angel or the bad angel? If you think it’s more interesting to leave the question open — and I certainly do — then you’ll love this film. It won three Czech Lions (the Czech equivalent of the Academy Awards): Schmitzer for Best Actor, Geislerová and Brejchová for Best Supporting Actress, as well as a special jury prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and Best Film at the Denver International Film Festival.

Beautiful cinematography by Jan Malíř is a bonus. Music is an integral element of the film, as well; the Czech accordionist/singer Radůza is featured, as are songs by the Irish musician Glen Hansard, who played the Dublin busker in Once.

Beauty in Trouble was released on DVD October 6 by Menemsha Films. If you missed it in the theaters, this is your chance to catch up. The film is in Czech with English subtitles. Sound and video transfer are excellent; my sole criticism of the DVD is that the only extra is the film’s trailer. Further information is available from the Menemsha website. | Sarah Boslaugh

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