- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

“Beauty in Trouble” (“Kraska v nesnazich”) was inspired by a song that was inspired by a poem. This moving and surprising Czech film, however, is very much down to earth, its concerns informed as much by modern, complicated Czech life as by an age-old, universal narrative.

The first stanza of the Robert Graves poem from which the song and film take their titles reads: “Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel / On whom she can rely. / To pay her cab-fare, run a steaming bath, / Poultice her bruised eye.” That singsong story pretty much sums up the plot. The beauty in question is Marcela (Anna Geislerova), a woman who seems too beautiful to belong in such desperate straits. Her home was practically destroyed in the floods that swept Prague in 2002, and her mechanic husband, Jarda (Roman Luknar), has turned to stealing cars to bring the family some extra cash. Not wanting to set a bad example for their two children by condoning crime, she decamps to her mother’s (Jana Brejchova) home. Jarda claims she will soon come crawling back.

It would surprise no one if she did. Marcela may see her husband as good for nothing, but they have a more than vibrant sex life and even make love after she has decided to leave him. Also, it’s not as if her mother’s house is any more comfortable. Her stepfather, Risa (Jiri Schmitzer), doesn’t appreciate the intrusion and lets the newcomers know it. He adds a real sinister note to the proceedings, parading in front of Marcela’s teenage daughter naked and asking if the boys at school have felt her up yet.

Soon, however, an angel appears in the form of Evzen (Josef Abrham). This older, genteel rich man meets Marcela in the police station where Jarda has been taken for stealing Evzen’s car. The rich man and the beautiful woman soon embark on a tentative romance. It’s an old story, but there is always more than meets in the eye in this film. A dirty old man is capable of kindness, and an angel can commit violence.

“Beauty in Trouble” was nominated for best film in the Czech Lions Awards (that country’s Oscars) and won three prizes, nearly sweeping the acting categories. This character-driven drama is so gripping because every actor is so good, with each making archetypes - the nasty stepfather, the angry husband, the rich gentleman - that transcend their familiarity.

If you’ve read Mr. Graves’ wry poem, you’ll have some idea of the twists and turns this story will take. It’s a testament to the talent of director Jan Hrebejk and writer Petr Jarchovsky - best-known for the Holocaust drama “Divided We Fall” - “Beauty in Trouble” manages to transfix nonetheless.


TITLE: “Beauty in Trouble” (“Kraska v nesnazich”)

RATING: No rating (Some nudity, adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jan Hrebejk. Written by Petr Jarchovsky, based on a story by Mr. Jarchovsky and Mr. Hrebejk. In Czech, with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME:110 minutes


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