Beauty in Trouble (Menemsha Films, NR)

film_beauty-in-trouble_sm.jpgIn Robert Graves’ poem, the story concludes as Leo Durocher would have predicted it: nice guys finish last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marcela (Aňa Geislerová) leads the kind of ordinary working-class life in which minor misfortunes can accumulate into real trouble. An unplanned pregnancy leads to a hasty marriage: now all she and her husband Jarda (Roman Luknár) seem to have in common is sexual attraction. The family lost everything in the 2002 Prague floods because they didn’t have insurance. Now she and the kids live over her husband’s chop shop, where dust and mold aggravates her son’s asthma, and the close quarters mean everyone gets on each other’s nerves.

After one flare-up too many, Marcela takes the kids and moves back in with her mother (Jana Brejchová), in an even more cramped apartment. Her creepy stepfather (Jiří Schmitzer) exposes himself to her daughter and deliberately provokes her son into an asthma attack. Then her husband lands in prison after one of his associates steals a car equipped with the satellite equivalent of Lo-Jack.

Fortunately for Marcela, she’s still young and beautiful. Even more fortunate, the owner of the stolen car (Evzen, played by Josef Abrhám) is a wealthy expat (an early scene shows him reading Kundera in Italian translation) who is both kind and single. He plays the role of the "good angel" of 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." Evzen permits Marcela and her kids to stay in an apartment in a building he owns, and gradually a romantic relationship develops. When Jarda is released from prison, she has to pick between not only two men, but two ways of life and the future each offers her children.

In Graves’ poem, the story concludes as Leo Durocher would have predicted it: nice guys finish last. "The fiend who beats, betrays and sponges on her/ Persuades her white is black/ Flaunts vespertilian wing and cloven hoof/ And soon will fetch her back." (In case you don’t have a dictionary handy, Vespertilio is a genus of bats.)

In Jan Hřebejk’s film, it’s not so clear. Petr Jarchovsý’s script is elliptical, building the story through a succession of small scenes whose import is not always immediately obvious. Director Hřebejk allows the audience to put the pieces together, resulting in a film of which leaves the conclusion of many plot threads open to interpretation. Watching Beauty in Trouble is like being granted a window into the lives of the characters, but with all the boring bits left out. They seem so real that forcing a solution onto their stories would violate the integrity of the world the director has so carefully constructed.

Jan Malíř’s beautiful cinematography, shot on location in the Czech Republic and Tuscany, is a bonus, as is the original music by Aleŝ Březina. The soundtrack also incorporates songs by the Czech singer Radůza and the Irish musician Glen Hansard (familiar as the Dublin busker in Once). | Sarah Boslaugh

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