Film Review: Winter Flies (Všechno bude)
By Cat LaVarre
On Monday afternoon, a free showing of "Winter Flies" (Všechno bude) played out before a fully packed Lobero Theatre. The selection was of a Czech film that won Best Director in the 2018 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
The Czech Republic, a small Central European country that peacefully separated from Slovakia in 1993, may often be overlooked by people living in the Americas. Despite this, or maybe even because of it, the country has a proud history and statehood, recently celebrating with enthusiasm the 100-year-anniversary of its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Having studied in the Czech Republic for a semester, I was able to fully appreciate the richness of the Czech Republic in person. From uniquely Czech spots such as Prague Castle and the many bridges in Prague to the history of Czech folklore and legends, such as Rabbi Loew’s creation of the Golem, the Czech Republic has no shortage of history and culture.
Perhaps the most relevant cultural phenomenon currently, however, is the Czech history with communism and the Soviet occupation. The country is fiercely independent. After all, the Velvet Revolution only ended Soviet occupation in 1989. Czechs still hold great pride in beating the Soviet Union in professional football and are still inclined to pickle practically every vegetable.
Now to the actual movie! (Spoilers following!)
The narrative follows two boys: Heduš and Mára, during their illegal winter road trip across the Czech Republic. Mára hot-wires a car to run away from a girl he had sex with, and Heduš lies down on the windshield until Mára agrees to let him come along. The boys have many adventures along the way. They adopt a dog they name Jakal, to whom Heduš becomes very attached to. They pick up a hitchhiker: Bára, a young woman running from a complicated and generally unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. They find Mára’s grandfather immediately after he had a heart attack, and hurriedly bring him to the hospital. The police pick up Mára, and Heduš, the loyal friend as always, gets him out. Eventually, they drive home, laughing and joking, as the best of friends.
The tale is multi-layered, and while on the surface it is only an anecdote of two friends, the writers skillfully interweave many other themes below the surface, emphasizing both the film’s Czech-ness and its universality.
Naturally, as a famous film from and about the Czech Republic, the work reflected the past struggles with communism and the alterations of Czech culture in recent years. Mára’s grandfather, whom he adores and mentions often, was part of “the revolution,” presumably the Velvet Revolution, working to overthrow the communists. In this context, Mára’s mother becomes particularly interesting as a character. She works in cosmetics at a supermarket. She is certainly a struggling, single mother, but simultaneously she may represent the themes of capitalism in this film. By Mára’s own account, her behavior shows, though perhaps not neglect, a lack of concern for her son’s day-to-day welfare. Of course, Mára’s view of his mother might be the natural result of her being a single mother working to support both herself and her child. Nevertheless, the overall impression of Mára’s mother is not positive. Perhaps, in keeping with the Czech, usually dark humor, this is a subtle nod to the faults of both the communist and the capitalist systems.
The film, at least in the translations provided in the subtitles, contains a great deal of insensitive language. One particularly offensive term was the f-word that has been unfortunately used to describe, in particular, gay men. The filmmakers might simply be trying for realism and wish to depict how people from the time, class, and place depicted might speak. It also may be a subtle reference to the way the Soviet Occupation essentially froze Czech culture for years, leaving them behind in some respects. Regardless, viewers should be aware of the prolificacy of this language. The use of the above term might also fit within the context of the next theme.
The depiction of women and manhood in this film is particularly fascinating. Regardless of the two main characters being hormonal young boys, almost every woman in this film is a powerful figure. Mára’s mother works and raises Mára all by herself. The policewoman shown throughout the film is intelligent, intuitive, and alone manages to discover Mára’s story, name, and background while her male colleague is almost completely useless. For Mára and Heduš, growing into manhood appears to be about guns, violence, intimidation, and having sex with a dominating attitude toward women. However, when the boys meet men who possibly fit into this concept of manhood, they react with scorn and disgust. The only worthy role models in this film are women.
This is definitely not a children’s film. The filmmakers confronted real hardships that everyday people face, both in the Czech Republic and beyond. The characters’ lives are not all rainbows and roses, but still, amazingly, they manage to persevere and even enjoy life to some degree.
The final overarching theme of this work is nature, generally through symbolism. The countryside that Heduš and Mára travel through is filled with wildlife of the Czech Republic, such as hedgehogs and bunnies. At one point, Mára even falls asleep at the wheel, and although disaster seems inevitable, it almost seems like nature itself protects them and keeps them driving safe on the road. At one point Heduš watches a documentary about butterflies, described as the “wanderers,” and there is a clear comparison between the migrations of the butterflies and Heduš and Mára’s journey. Perhaps the point is that the boys’ road trip is simply the next step in their natural process of growing into adulthood.
All in all, the film is not so simple as it might first appear. Besides being an engaging story, the story includes history, gender, nature, and the darker side of human society.
The film will be shown during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Wednesday, February 6 at 8:00 a.m. and Friday, February 7 at 9:00 pm. Learn more about this film and purchasing tickets at sbiff.org.