Fortunately "Rent" was out for the weekend, otherwise I might not have encountered this musical from a part of the world I am most unfamiliar with.
The Japanese title is, unexplainedly "Prague!!", but then again how else might a Japanese marketer give the local moviegoer the idea that this is not your average campy musical?
After settling into the novelty that this is a movie set in the former Czechoslovakia, and as a musical oddly interspersed with Petula Clark numbers sung in Czech, and with Twiggy dancers splashed all over the screen in sequence after sequence, the harsh reality of the society that is the backdrop of several happy-go-lucky soon- to-graduate high schoolers comes subtly into play, with no bashing you over the head that this is a communist country in transition.
Though I somehow doubt that a provincial Czech town in 1968 would have had the latest Carnaby Street fashions that the actresses were fond of wearing, it added to the sense of that wild and free time of life the protagonists were in, rather than catering to the reality which was likely a bit more subtle.
Knowing practically nothing about the culture and social background, I'm sure I must have missed more than a few references, but the message came through:
A group of high schoolers about to get out into the world live in a rapidly changing society longing to put Moscow's shadow in the past and join the "free" world. Tereza, the lovely protagonist, has a father who has taken advantage of the new political environment to open up a café on the edge of town. Her suitor Olda, is a symbol of the upstanding socialist who wants to take her to see the city lights of Moscow... but she can't stand him.
Into the scene walks in a band of young (and very handsome) army deserters posing as repairmen taking refuge in the lonely town church, where one of their uncles is the priest. Of course, Simon, the one with relatives in San Francisco is the one who falls in love with Tereza. Their goal is freedom in the West, but Simon gets waylaid with his feelings for Tereza, and who can blame him??
Meanwhile, the search is on for the deserters, and Tereza and her girlfriends have no idea who their new boyfriends are.
While it is honestly a little difficult to believe Tereza is merely 18, she plays it well, and the "summer of love" in a Czech village plays out for the 6 young people almost oblivious to the dark clouds that are gathering on the horizon. What happened after that is history, but the movie/musical shows it with humor and humanity as how it affected the average Czech family and personal relations.
If you like musicals with an element of seriousness but not played too darkly, this one is for you.
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