Polski Film: Karlovy Vary Film Review

Madcap Czech comedy starts buoyantly but runs out of gas.  

Marek Najbrt's comedy follows four Czech comics as they (unsuccessfully) attempt to launch a Polish film.

Karlovy Vary—The one Czech film in competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Polski Film, harks back to some classic Czech comedies. In fact, one of the highlights at this year’s festival was a screening of a newly restored print of Milos Forman’s surreal comedy from 1967, The Firemen’s Ball, the last film he made in Czechoslovakia before emigrating to America and Oscar glory. Polski honors the subversive spirit that Forman and other directors brought to the Czech New Wave before the Russians invaded Prague and crushed this artistic renaissance. This new movie also has some parallels to the American mock documentaries of Christopher Guest and to the Steve Coogan movie, The Trip, which had actors playing themselves in staged scenes. Polski employs the same technique with actors who are very well known in the Czech Republic, but not in other parts of the world.  Therefore American distribution seems unlikely, even though the movie has moments of genuine hilarity.

Four Czech comic performers—Pavel Liska, Marek Daniel, Josef Polasek, and Tomas Matonoha—decide to work together on a film in which they will play themselves. They attract financing in Poland on the condition that they cast a Polish actress as their co-star, but as they start filming, all kinds of problems arise. For one thing, the Polish financiers decide that Czech humor is “all Greek” to them. Pavel develops a speech impediment, which disappears when he starts speaking Polish.  Tomas is having major financial problems that bleed over into the production. And the actors’ romantic entanglements add to the chaos of the shoot. Although the actors play themselves, the plot complications are clearly fictional—or are they?  Part of the fun of the movie is trying to guess just how much is real and how much is invented. Clearly it is easier for Czech audiences to catch all the in-jokes, but the satiric look at moviemaking will draw laughs from audiences all over the world.  In addition, the absurdist humor about travel nightmares, GPS navigational systems, TV game shows, and sexual duplicity will tickle viewers of any nationality.

The four leading actors relish their unsympathetic roles, and Jan Budar as their befuddled director also gets swept up in the madness. Czech actress Jana Plodkova and Polish actress Katarzyna Zawadzka play more or less straight roles with the right deadpan humor. Fantasy scenes are deftly interwoven by the film’s real director, Marek Najbrt. The major problem with the movie is that Najbrt has no idea of when to stop. The film drags on for close to two hours, which is a mistake that Christopher Guest and his cohorts never made. This self-indulgence eventually undermines the movie’s mirthful mood.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Cast: Pavel Liska, Tomas Matonoha, Marek Daniel, Josef Polasek, Jan Budar, Jana Plodkova, Katarzyna Zawadzka
Director: Marek Najbrt
Screenwriters: Benjamin Tucek, Robert Geisler, Marek Najbrt
Producers: Milan Kuchynka, Grzegorz Madej
Director of photography: Miroslav Holman
Production designer: Lucie Fejkova
Music: Midi Lidi
Costume designer: Andrea Kralova
Editor: Pavel Hrdlicka
No rating, 113 minutes.