Nowhere In Moravia (Díra u Hanusovic)
Czech Republic (2014) Dir. Miroslav Krobot
The wonderful thing about cinema is that we can travel to any country in the world, view their sights and experience their culture without ever leaving our living rooms. If there were a downside, it would be seeing a country through a cynical lens to make us ask “Who would want to live here?” as this quirky rustic Czech outing demonstrates.
In a small remote village in the Jesenik Mountains, former German teacher Maruna (Tatiana Vilhelmová) runs the local pub, lives with her demanding ailing mother (Johana Tesarová) and nurse sister Jaruna (Lenka Krobotová). Despite the lack of eligible – and desirable – bachelors, Maruna enjoys romps with many of the local men regardless while Jaruna doesn’t have the same confidence or inhibitions as her sister.
When an elderly German woman known as The Countess (Miluse Hradská) passes away her equally aged brother Hans (René Pribil) arrives at the village to bury her and is forcefully pushed in Jaruna’s direction by her mother. Looking at it as a way out of her moribund existence, Jaruna accepts an offer to marry Hans and move to Munich with him, leaving Maruna on her own to re-evaluate her own life.
Miroslav Krobot is a prolific actor and theatre director in his native Czech Republic yet this is his first film behind the camera. What immediately stands out is Krobot isn’t beholden to his stage roots, embracing the freedom the camera and multiple location settings offer him, yet the script also features many lengthy one shot dialogue scenes, so not all theatrical habits have been abandoned.
Not being familiar with Krobot’s prior works as a writer it is hard to know if he has a chip on his shoulder regarding his homeland or if he is simply reflecting what he sees while casting a wry eye on his subject to raise questions about the quality of life in the bucolic provinces of the Czech Republic.
If ever there was the antithesis of an enticing tourist board promotional video this film would be it yet there is no malice or anything of an overtly caustic voice found here, just a collection of observational skits featuring the idiosyncratic cast of characters and their somewhat incestuous daily interactions. I use the word “incestuous” metaphorically of course in reference to how small the community is, but there is an instance where it borderlines of being literal.
One of the more interesting, and ultimately tragic denizens of this backwoods hamlet is the woman known as Lad’a’s Old Lady (Simona Babcakova), whose promiscuity is the dark mirror image of Maruna’s. A slatternly forest worker of little appeal, she is married to the brutish Ladin (Hynek Cermak) yet might as well also be betrothed to his equally thuggish brother Balin (David Novotny), since they live a small shack together and the same wife.
The connecting factor between these two loose ladies appears to be a tacit sense of self-loathing although this is much stronger in Mrs. Ladin, as you might expect. Invariably she enters the pub, shares a shot with Maruna then asks what day it is before nominating the corresponding gentleman to foot the bill – in other words she repays them in kind – which infuriates her hubby and brother-in-law when she won’t put out for them.
Mrs. Ladin may have a scatty, almost enigmatic air about her that makes her amusing but the situation she is trapped in is anything but, and attempts to fight back and establish her self-worth are in vain. In contrast, Maruna’s bedroom exploits see her in control of who she sleeps with, be it feckless mayor Jura (Ivan Trojan) or married randy roofer Kodl (Lukas Latinak) while allowing resident dimwit teen Olin (Jaroslav Plesl) the odd boob grab in return for renovations on her pub!
Defining the difference between Maruna and Mrs. Ladin is unfortunately down to physical attraction as much as it is the circumstances driving them – one is confident, intelligent and moderately attractive, the other is a bit of scrag giving it away. To balance this out, we have Jaruna, the archetypal plain Jane, with the good job, clean reputation and zero romantic prospects until Hans arrives; almost overnight, a new hairdo, some make-up and a new expensive wardrobe and Jaruna is the sparkling diamond with it all to live for.
Jaruna may represent the benefits of seeking out greener pastures and the opportunity to better oneself but it isn’t hard to read between the lines and see that it came as the result of a man’s wallet and not her own hard work – meaning Jaruna has it all but is she any better than her sister and Mrs. Ladin? Money may not change hands but their independence as women is governed by the men in their lives.
It’s a cynical way to look at this and Krobot may not have meant it this way but then again the intention behind this story isn’t necessarily clear either. There are elements of satire present, not gut busting funny but darkly resonant, and the sociological pessimism is palpable, right up until the stinging denouement but the only message Krobot appears to be offering is that life is an endless cycle, so deal with it.
Because of the laid back, often gritty naturalism of the general mise-en-scene much of the cast, sourced from Krobot’s own theatre company, barley seem to be acting, such is the immersion both physically and mentally into their roles. Tatiana Vilhelmová is strong central figure, exuding sensuality as Maruna despite not being portrayed as obviously sexy, while Krobot’s daughter Lenka Krobotová and Simona Babcakova supply equally engaging counter-figures as the primary females.
Krobot’s direction isn’t groundbreaking but competent in its evocation and atmosphere, and the story is threadbare at best, but Nowhere In Moravia succeeds in presenting a curiously compelling if absurdly bleak look into an esoteric isolated community where the beacon of hope sadly has a broken bulb.