'The White World According to Daliborek' ('Svet podle Daliborka'): Film Review | Karlovy Vary 2017

Courtesy of KVIFF
Thought provoking ... but that ending needs to go.

Czech documentarian Vit Klusak ('Czech Dream') follows the racist-cum-white-supremacist of the title in his latest nonfiction work.

Making something like The White World According to Daliborek (Svet podle Daliborka), a documentary about the rather pedestrian and largely uneventful daily life of a racist-cum-white-supremacist and Nazi sympathizer, is fraught with possible pitfalls. If the film is hilarious — and this Czech feature frequently is, in that awkward, supposedly unintentional way — does that trivialize the threat these potential voters, underground protesters or rabble-rousers could pose for a democratic society? Does a documentary that takes a seemingly uncritical, almost reality-TV-style look at a small-town wannabe skinhead like the 36-year-old Daliborek amount to giving him a platform for his admittedly confused or at least not very consistent ideas? 

After co-directing Czech Dream, about the power of marketing in the post-Soviet Mitteleuropa, and Czech Peace, about the possible opening of a U.S. military radar base in the Czech Republic, director Vit Klusak went solo for this effort, which could be dubbed Czech Nationalist if we want to deem this a Czech trilogy. However, regular collaborator Filip Remunda is still on board as a producer, and humor is still very much a key ingredient. Daliborek is again sure to excite the regional media and should do especially well locally after its Karlovy Vary world premiere. Based on both the filmmaker's reputation and the hot-button issue examined here, festivals further afield will also be interested, even though the film's epilogue is especially problematic.

Klusak follows Daliborek, who works as a spray-painter in a factory but who still lives with his single mom, as he goes about his daily business. This includes such activities as talking trash about foreigners with his colleagues (some of whom are actually foreigners or at least minorities); recording YouTube videos of sexist and/or racist songs he writes and performs and that garner north of 180 views per clip, and eating the meals prepared by his mother, Vera. She is a hausfrau of a certain age who seems mostly worried about choosing the right picture for her Facebook profile, watching her daily soaps and making sure her paunchy offspring is regularly fed.

If watched on mute, the daily goings-on of this odd couple would be completely unremarkable except for the neo-Nazi flags on the walls of their otherwise entirely nondescript apartment. The more-than-casual racism of the couple doesn't make it impossible for them to find mates, either, and somewhat surprisingly, they both do over the course of the film (it's never exactly clear how much time Klusak spent with the two). The arrival of a rival for his mother's attention turns Daliborek into even more of a spoilt brat than he already is, despite the fact he finds a girlfriend of his own not much later (though she refuses to have sex with him, a fact he freely discusses with his friends at the pub).

What's also unusual is how consistently funny The White World According to Daliborek turns out to be, with Klusak always there to capture every mishap or outrageous statement from the best possible angle. Even before the midway point, it's impossible to not have considered at least once the possibility this might in reality be a very well-made pseudo-documentary that was entirely scripted. This would not come as a complete surprise, seen how skillfully Klusak and Raimunda often manipulated reality in their previous films.  

Whatever the case may be, there are ethical questions that come with the territory. Is it reassuring for white liberals and possibly threatened minorities to see that the daily life of a blue-collar white supremacist is mostly a sad, lonely and confused affair? Is it a good idea to present his ideas without any further commentary or (at least obviously detectable) editorializing? Especially the ideology of Vera's boyfriend — who thinks "all scum needs to be removed" from his country but who once had a Muslim friend — seems confused, but Daliborek's own worldview is also far from consistent. And when the protagonist says you can't "believe everything they say on TV or in pseudo-documentaries," you wonder again whether that's a subtle hint to the audience or Daliborek is simply suggesting he's not into the Czech equivalent of the lamestream media, and he prefers obscure websites that offer up theories and "news" that supports his particular views.

For most of its running time, the film is thought-provoking regardless of its precise origins. Klusak probes a complex subject matter by honing in on the apparent normality of the lives of those on the far right. This seems to suggest they are not all that different from the countless others that are part of (especially more rural) working-classes, which in turn might suggest there is a possibility for them to either abandon their extreme ideals if someone manages to convince them of their worth or for a demagogue to tap into their raw sentiments and make them spread even wider. But Klusak never quite manages to put his finger on why exactly Daliborek and people like him buy into the ideals that they do, other than that his own existence is rather uneventful and he'd like a better life. Liberals will at least be comforted by the notion that this white supremacist is neither particularly coherent in his convictions nor very active politically. "No. Maybe mom threw away the ballots when they arrived?" is his reply when asked if he voted.

The film's real problem area is its epilogue, which should either be scrapped altogether or given its own spin-off feature, as there is way too little time to properly explore everything contained in those couple of minutes. In the epilogue, Daliborek, his mother and their partners go on a bus trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in neighboring Poland, their first trip abroad. During their guided tour, Daliborek has some awkward questions to ask and questionable alternative facts to share, which, seen his earlier political ramblings, shouldn't exactly come as a surprise. What is surprising is how Klusak has staged everything for maximum dramatic impact but makes no time to actually deal with the fallout or potential ramifications for both sides, leaving audiences no choice but to dismiss it as a cheap stunt. 

Production companies: Hypermarket Films, Ceska Televize, Peter Kerekes, Britdoc Foundation
Director: Vit Klusak
Screenplay: Vit Klusak, Marianna Stranska
Producers: Vit Klusak, Filip Remunda
Director of photography: Adam Krulis
Production designer: Marianna Stranska
Editor: Janka Vlckova
Music: Vladimir Godar

In Czech
No rating, 95 minutes

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