A review of “Up and Down” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. In Czech with English subtitles

 

 

The fragile nature of life in the Czech Republic makes for entertaining cinema by virtue of parallel dramas and six-degrees-of-separation sensibility.

Under the cover of darkness a pair of Czech smugglers discovers that one of their truckload of Indian refugees has left an infant boy behind.  Without hesitation the men drop the child at the local pawnshop whose owners immediately find a willing taker.

On the other side of Prague a well-heeled professor (Jan Triska) suffers a heart-attack and requests a reunion with his estranged wife (Emilia Vasaryova), much to the dismay of his live-in lover (Ingrid Timkova) and his adult son (Petr Forman), currently operating a surf shop in Australia.

Meanwhile the adoptive parents of the missing infant adjust to life with baby. Dad (Jiri Machacek) is a retired felon with an addictive soccer habit and a penchant for the dark side.  Mom (Natasa Burger) so desperately hankers for motherhood that she ignores the questionable circumstances surrounding the child’s illegal status.

Director Jan Hrebejk (Divided We Fall) knows his way around an ample narrative and manages to tie his loose ends together with nary a frayed edge.  His melting pot of humanity assumes warmth, heartache, frustration and humor with cultural flair. 

Prague is a downtrodden beauty, struggling with her identity yet proud of her heritage.  This glimpse into her socialist middle-class lacks objective throughout but its essence is both moody and bittersweet.