Karlovy Vary 2019 Review: OLD-TIMERS, Seniors Seek Revenge on the Road
A Czech drama by directors Martin Dušek and Ondřej Provazník.
Stories about coming to terms with communist history constitutes a separate class in Czech cinema. Dramas and comedies alike return to those times or reflect upon the era of totalitarianism from the contemporary perspective.
The latest Czech drama to approach the topic of the Communist fallout is Old-Timers. Made by the directing tandem of Martin Dušek and Ondřej Provazník, it's an odd match of a topic and a creative team who previously stood behind projects with a rather satirical bent.
Old-Timers see two former political prisoners and WWII veterans reunite in their 80s and embarking on a mission to right the wrong of an unpunished communist prosecutor with the blood of their friends on his hands. They have learned that the new system failed to serve justice, which motivates their actions. Wheelchair-bound Vlasta arrives from the USA in order to persuade Tonda, who is not in a hurry to rush into an assassination, but eventually gets talked into it, since he also suffered great injustices.
The story hardly comes from a fantasy department, as Old-Timers is inspired by actual events from the early aughts. Bolshevik procurator Karel Vaš, responsible for a judicial murder and five more victims of communist terror, was cleared of his crimes by the post-revolution court, his crimes declared time-barred. Two of his victims, octogenarians, decided to execute justice by their own hands.
In recent times of apparently short historic memory, such stories serve as a stark reminder, in order not to be doomed to repeat history. While Dušek and Provazník's film checks this message, moreover in a form of bittersweet story enjoyable outside the narrow circle of an arthouse audience, Old-Timers addresses other topics as well: Aging. And aching.
The central story, worthy of an adrenaline action rush, gets a vastly different treatment if two octogenarians are about to do the bidding, especially when one from the team is wheelchair-bound, and the other has problems with the heart. Despite the filmmakers' reputation for satire, they did not take the path of parody, no matter how tempting it might have been.
Instead, Dušek and Provazník find a balance to deliver jokes (prostrate trouble, of course), but they never veer to humiliation. The body remains in the center, with all its (mal)functions and the writer-directors, and most notably leading actor Jiří Schmitzer, are not afraid to show it scarred, which adds to the severity of the whole situation.
Old-Timers is a realistic depiction of what an assassination by two seniors would look like. It may look like an anti-thesis to the action genre and road movie as well, since after a sudden twist of fate, their caravan becomes unusable, and public transport becomes the only viable option.
Old-Timers may be the world´s slowest action movie, yet at the same time the story depicts an incredible willingness and single-mindedness of a weakening and aching body to push forward and not give up, driven by an undying sense for justice.
Dušek and Provazník's oeuvre joins a recent collection of domestic films that react to the impotence of justice in general and the arrogance of the powerful. As an example, the recent Czech mainstream comedy The Lady Terrorist saw a retired teacher reaching for firearms to deal with a local arrogant villain. The currently most innovative Czech director, Petr Zelenka (Lost in Munich), finished his latest feature, The Pilot, which follows a rather naïve boy being tipped off by the arrogance of politicians to orchestrate an assassination on Dick Cheney.
While the latter two films react to the rising social unrest and the limits of outrageousness being pushed further every day, as well as radicalization of a common folk, all three films share the same motif of DIY justice-fighters as the system failed them. Dealing with the past runs as a leitmotif in Czech cinema, and while Dušek and Provazník have added another oeuvre into the domestic body of such works, they simultaneously made a contribution to a different cinema: body cinema.
Feeble, sore and on-screen in a memorable performance by the leading actors Jiří Schmitzer and Jaroslav Mrkvička, Old-Timers conceptually outmatches the premise of two geezers in a caravan.