Up and Down

One interesting thing that happens after the Oscars is the rush of failed entries for the Best Foreign Film category. Each country can submit one film, and the Academy picks what it thinks are the four best ones. Recent releases that didn't make the cut include You I Love (Russia), Lost Embrace (Argentina), Turtles Can Fly (Iran), and Nobody Knows (Japan). It's really bizarre seeing how the Academy chooses their top five. The Sea Inside was a worthy winner. But Les Choristes? Please. Other fantastic ignored films were House of Flying Daggers (China) and The Five Obstructions (Denmark). Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky, the writer/director and co-writer of Up and Down have some history with the Oscars, their last film, Divided We Fall, was one of the finalists in 2001. Up and Down did not make the cut this year, and now it works its way into theaters for people to see whether or not they agree.

Hrebejk (Pupendo, Cosy Dens) and Jarchovsky (Zelary, Pupendo) take a look at the interconnected lives of some ordinary Czech citizens. The film takes a slightly comic look at the hardships that they all encounter, and how it affects their relationships with the people around them. The stories interconnect in that many of the people encounter others over the course of the film. It all begins with two crooks, Milan (Jan Budar, Champions, The Devil Knows) and Goran (Zdenek Suchy, The Devil Knows, Seducer) discover a baby. They were smuggling illegal immigrants into Prague when a family inadvertently left a baby behind. They sell the baby to Miluska (Natasa Burger, Ruins, Sweet Dreams), who wants a baby desperately enough that at times she tried stealing other newborns. Her husband Frantisek (Jiri Machacek, Smart Philip, Dungeons & Dragons) is aghast, partially because he is on parole and this could land him back in jail, and partially because the baby is not white. Frantisek used to pal around with a bunch of soccer hooligans, but is trying to start a clean life as a security guard.

Meanwhile, Otakar (Jan Triska, Zelary, Lost Souls), an older professor, collapses during class, prompting him to reveal an old family secret to his wife Hana (Ingrid Timkova, Return to Paradise Lost, Angel of Mercy) and daughter Lenka (Kristyna Bokova). Otakar had a first wife, Russian Vera (Emilia Vasaryova, Return to Paradise Lost, Cosy Dens), and an adult son Martin (Petr Forman, Smart Philip, Burning in the Wind) who lives in Australia. Otakar wants to ensure that all things are settled, and invites Vera and Martin to meet his daughter Lenka.

Most of the black humor revolves around Frantisek's exasperation and the idiotic shenanigans of Goran and Milan. But the focus is less on the comedy and more on the nature of their lives. Nobody in Up and Down is really well off. Otakar may be financially okay, but his revelation leaves his family in a messy state. Vera is still extremely bitter two decades on, for reasons that Hrebejk and Jarchovsky eventually reveal. The way that the stories interconnect feels a little forced, but does reinforce a sense of inevitability and fate. None of the characters are people that others should look up to. They are just normal people trying to get, some by dubious means.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Czech with English subtitles, Rated R for language, sexual content, and brief violence.

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