Kawasaki’s Rose (CZECH)
Next screening: Saturday June 12 / 12.15pm / State Theatre
Director-writer team Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovský have made a bunch of successful ‘festival’ films together, the best known (in Australia) being Divided We Fall (2000), and Beauty in Trouble (2006). This latest, reportedly inspired by Oscar-winner The Lives of Others, explores memory and guilt in the post-communist Czech Republic – but with a great deal more humour; despite the heavy subject matter, Hrebejk and Jarchovský mine the darkly comic potential of dysfunctional families throughout the film.
Just as East Germany had the Stasi, Czechoslavakia’s communist government had not-so-secret police, who identified and weeded out dissidents, often with the help of citizen ‘collaborators’ (many of whom are alive and powerful in the modern Czech Republic). Kawasaki’s Rose explores this situation through the microcosm of a three-generation-strong family, whose patriarch – Pavel (Martin Huba – I Served the King of England, Beauty in Trouble) – is being honoured with the annual ‘Memory of the Nation’ award, for standing up to the Communist state, and being part of the Velvet Revolution.
However, when a film crew (which conveniently includes his son-in-law) set about documenting Pavel’s life, they discover that his past has been ‘airbrushed’, to cover up a period in his early career where he was a collaborator. The filmmakers uncover new, conflicting, narratives – an old friend of Pavel and his wife, who was exiled to Sweden in the ‘70s; a former State interrogator, who suggests Pavel was directly responsible.
The film takes us on a somewhat circuitous route towards its final destination, dropping clues along the way, and taking detours into the collapsing marriage of Pavel’s daughter Lucie and son-in-law Ludek (who is cheating) – the point being that lies and guilt on any level, if covered up, have the potential to corrode a person (or a state’s) soul. It is an early conversation between Pavel and his granddaughter Bara which first alerts us to the rot: she has just been arrested for petty theft; her grandfather is trying to persuade her why confessing her crime to her parents is not just a moral obligation, but imperative for her mental health.
The film lightly touches on how memory and morality intersect within psychiatry, different religious philosophies (Buddhism), ideologies (Communism or Nazism), and even the documentary filmmakers’ ‘production of story’. Finally, Pavel – a professor of degenerative brain diseases, by the way – is forced to admit that if memory is lost, we cease to exist; and the only way to preserve memory is to acknowledge it (cue climactic scene).
At the heart of Kawasaki’s Rose is this profound but simple thesis; but what makes it so compelling is the richly created family situation. By sucking us into the different relationships, which shift and shudder as their foundation stones – memory, family history – are re-examined, the filmmakers make their point. Interestingly, the film ends on an unsettling note: a single shot of the birthday party of Kafka, the elderly ex-interrogator – which suggests that for every repentant from Pavel’s generation, there is another who is equally remorseless. [DJ]