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Set in 1989 at the end of the Communist era even as the Berlin Wall was falling, a humble train dispatcher who's lived all his life in a small hamlet on the Czech side of the Czech-Polish border has been tormented by disturbing dreams about what happened to his ethnic German babysitter at the end of WW II. At the same time, a strange man of few to no words (is he mute?) in his mid 40s, shows up in the small hamlet with an old photograph and an ax. Much ensues... Written by
This is characteristically Czech, that worldview shaped by centuries of being tossed from the sphere of one empire to the other and being unable to do more than watch; this watching is usually a whimsy or a mute sadness in Czech films. From this view flows a disenchantment with power as well as morals and narrative, a disenchantment that powers a lot of the life of representation over there, from independent- minded cinema right down to porn.
Painting instead of chronicle. The film is actually both, the chronicle a series of moods about detachment from the world, centered on a weary station master in a remote post in the mountains who can only watch as night rolls down on the passing of things. There's smuggling going on to and from the border, this is how the activities of men are rendered here, as superficial schemes of an uninteresting importance. He is soon fired, takes his watching down to the city where no one cares. The backdrop is the fall of communism around the Bloc but this too reaches us as faint echoes from a TV or radio, there's no motivation for political discourse in any of this, only distance and disenchantment.
This is the treatise, about this man who can wander away from it all as passively as he sat and watched the machinations and how this nearly costs him the one prospect left for love. It's not terribly interesting, the detachment as weariness more than space for reflection.
The sketch is a bit more so, that's where the film derives a lot of its power from. It's an animated film, though it seems real people and locations were used for their nuance as the backdrop to sketch over. The animation is basically a shorthand here that lets the makers accentuate moods with a softer distance that you really have to strive to create with the camera. It worked for me, the dark mountains, the mud, the thankless vodka around a table with strangers, it seeps into the bones with the rain and chills.
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