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Two boys in early adolescence drive — in a car, no less! — through the wintry backwoods of the Czech Republic looking for some warmth in Winter Flies (Vsechno bude), from Slovenian-born director Olmo Omerzu (Family Film). Written by Petr Pycha, this road movie has many of the stock elements of the genre while simultaneously offering something akin to a fresh twist because the protagonists are 12 and “almost 15” instead of the usual adults. Though Omerzu cuts back and forth between a police interrogation and the boys’ adventures on the road, there’s no sense they are fleeing from something specific, even if it is very clear they aren’t rich brats rebelling against their bourgeois parents either.
Observant and wise about boys in puberty yet impish and carefree when necessary and never idealizing the cold and dreary countryside they travel through, Winter Flies is a lovely little film that’s as comfortable as an old sweater and almost as warm. It premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in July, had its North American premiere at Toronto and will represent Czechia in the foreign-language Oscar race this year.
Mara (Tomas Mrvik), whose skinhead-like shaved head is probably meant to scare off strangers though he’s clearly a little too young to be truly frightening, drives a beaten-up Audi when he encounters the rotund, outgoing and somewhat younger Hedus (Jan Frantisek Uher), who basically forces him to give him a ride. The reason behind Mara’s drive is never quite revealed and Mara, who is a pensive introvert, certainly won’t volunteer that information. His ebullient companion is still stuck in that no man’s land between childhood and adolescence, where he’s at once curious about things like sex and adult posturing with guns — he has what looks like a BB gun and wears a ridiculous camo coat that’s good for a few laughs — but who has no problems with some of these things remaining otherwise theoretical for the moment; showing he’s aware of them and their importance in adulthood might be enough for now.
A female hitchhiker (Family Film’s Eliska Krenkova) comes in handy when they see a police road block ahead, leading to a gently comic scene in which Mara and the girl need to switch seats while driving just in case they get stopped and are asked for a license. As elsewhere, a sense of gently comic absurdity is heightened through clever cutting, with Mara having assured their pretty passenger just minutes earlier that, yes, of course he’s old enough to drive. The girl’s presence also reveals how unsure both are about dealing with the opposite sex, with Hedus hiding his inexperience behind a barrage of vulgarity no doubt learned from TV or the web and Mara telling tall tales of his sexual prowess to both the inquisitive Hedus and the wily female police officer (Lenka Vlasakova, Kawasaki’s Rose) the film keeps cutting back to, suggesting their drive will finally take them to a police station somewhere in the Czech boondocks.
Most things here will be familiar from previous road movies or coming-of-age films, but Pychy, and Omerzu and his editor, Jana Vlckova, contrast these elements smartly to tease out the underlying emotions, illicit gentle chuckles or both. After Family Film, Winter Flies also offers further evidence Omerzu is a gifted director of kids, with newcomers Uher and especially Mrvik both delivering fully committed performances. There is a scene at the police station in which Mara’s emotions are being manipulated to disentangle which part of his tall tales might actually be real that plays out in tight close-ups of Mrvik’s confused, tear-streaked face. It will be impossible for any viewer not already rooting for Mara to remain unmoved by the sight of the boy attempting to process all the conflicting information he’s receiving while trying to keep his head above water in what turns out to be the cruel world of adults and supposed law enforcement officials.
Cinematographer Lukas Milota (another Family Film alumnus) and production designer Antonin Silar ensure that the cold, damp and largely colorless countryside feels real while doubling as a kind of metaphorical no man’s land through which the boys must travel to reach adulthood. The playful score, credited to Simon Holy, Monika Midriakova and Pawel Szamburski, is another major asset that helps Omerzu navigate the material’s constant tonal shifts that are, of course, so typical of puberty.
Production companies: Endorfilm, Ceska Televize, Cvinger Film, Koskino, Punkchart Films, Rouge International
Cast: Tomas Mrvik, Jan Frantisek Uher, Eliska Krenkova, Lenka Vlasakova, Martin Pechlat
Director: Olmo Omerzu
Screenplay: Petr Pycha
Producer: Jiri Konecny
Director of photography: Lukas Milota
Production designer: Antonin Silar
Costume designers: Marjetka Kurner Kalous, Anna Mareskova
Editor: Jana Vlckova
Music: Simon Holy, Monika Midriakova, Pawel Szamburski
Venue: Cineast Central and Eastern European Film Festival Luxembourg (Competition)
No rating, 85 minutes
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