Review: LOST IN MUNICH, A French Parrot In The Czech Republic
The first quarter was doubtlessly dominated by the pragmatic directing style of Jan Prušinovský, showcased in The Snake Brothers, which started accumulating word-of-mouth hype as the best film of the 2015 even though the year had barely begun. After the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in August, the surprising feature debut by Slávek Horák, Home Care, emerged and was eventually put forth as the Czech nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for the Oscars. The film is a barely sentimental, decently melodramatic and humane take on dying in a mainstream arthouse or pop-art fashion. And the last but not least in the local film trinity, Lost in Munich, brought 2015 to a close.
Petr Zelenka, the filmmaker standing behind Lost in Munich, is already an established household name - in theatre and cinema - on home turf, as well as the owner of several accolades for the best director internationally. His previous feature, The Karamazov Brothers, resonated quite strongly as he nonchalantly grabbed the Dostoyevsky novel and channeled it onto the big screen in a brave and modern interpretation, not subverting the spirit of the original story.
Adapting the philosophical novel about faith, reason, will, God and doubt from an angle of a theatre troupe bringing the eponymous stage play to Krakow to be enacted inside an abandoned steel-plant warehouse seemed like a wild idea, though the result is even more overwhelming. An outstanding literary work, channeled through theatre, in a film simultaneously wiping away the boundaries between art imitating life and vice versa. It would not be fair to consider Lost in Munich picking up where The Karamazov Brothers left off, however.
Lost in Munich was brought to London for its world premiere during the BFI in the Laugh section, although to label it a comedy would be a criminal understatement. The film seems more like a culmination of the filmmaker's previous works in a complex and pulsating organism, an ultimate demonstration of Zelenka´s directorial and artistic style, combining metatextuality and mystification symbiotically wedged through several layers encapsulating a big theme.
The structure, and to some extent even the fabula, of Lost in Munich is so delicate that the enumeration of motifs, themes and formal aspects, as well as the story itself, would mean tearing down the very fabric of the film, filling several pages, and it would still look like an incoherent mess, impossible to be imagined as anything other than the satisfying film reel.
Taking this into account, Zelenka and his crew display a mastery of form and substance through a refreshing field trip into genre -- and the medium as well -- as they manage to surgically stitch the mess into a startling oeuvre, thus pushing the envelope even further, rendering the muddle of motifs and ideas highly enjoyable on an intellectual as well as entertainment level. The icing on the cake is that it might have as well have been the only and unique option of constructing and directing the unfilmable premise.
The whole juggernaut of a film kicks off with an anecdote about bringing French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier´s parrot, Sir P, to the Czech Republic. The 90 year old parrot begins to let his tongue loose, spilling quotes attributed to Daladier himself dating back to the times of the Munich Agreement a Nazi Germany annexation of certain parts of then Czechoslovakia.
The nature of the commentaries provided by the feathery snitch is controversial to the point of rewriting the deeply rooted perception of history which ultimately affected the nation´s shaping in the process. Sir P slips "Führer is super" in way too frequently, and a recently sacked journalist takes advantage of the situation after abducting the parrot.
The re-telling, or even a slightest attempt, does a big disservice to Zelenka´s film d´ étonnenement not ceasing to excite during its 105-minute run, packing twists and turns all the way, even as it plunges deeper into the theme. The director assembles pieces from political, historic and media reality into an unprecedented and witty satire, holding the proverbial mirror up, all while he's never short of incidental or throwaway gags.
The introspectively set story, heavily referencing on the Czech history and stereotypical self-characterization, could sound like a deal breaker for the film´s international prospects. Fortunately the unique narrative structure -- not in the context of Czech cinema solely but rather in the magnitude of world cinema -- shrewd organization, and assimilation of different and incompatible layers into a shape with sanded edges, all fitting together less like a puzzle and more like a harmonious amalgam of nested planes, like a Russian doll. The Czech actor Martin Myšička plays fictionalized version of himself, playing an (even more) fictionalized version of a made-up, burned-out journalist.
Repeated references to Francois Truffaut´s Day for Night provides one of many entry points and from a certain viewpoint, Lost in Munich might be considered a homage to Truffaut´s masterpiece, though it is only the beginning. Zelenka's sweep has a much wider and more ambitious angle of tackling smoothly serious and big themes, never being boring nor humorless, all while throwing in an extra in the form of a process of de-mythisation, crafting itself as a myth of its own as/about film maudit.
Indeed, a unique specimen on the large scale, Lost in Munich is Petr Zelenka and his team of collaborators at the top of their form, and a film so experimental and playful simultaneously, without losing an ounce of seriousness, it needs to travel beyond domestic borders. A special spot in the annals of domestic cinema is reserved for it. It will be exciting to see if Lost in Munich will end up being the filmmaker´s opus magnum in his filmography.
Note: Lost in Munich boasts 15 nods in the Czech annual awards, the Czech Lions, thus becoming the hottest candidate. Czech Lions will be handed out on March 5.