Up And Down Jan Hrebejk

Up And Down Jan Hrebejk
The fact that this pitch-black semi-comedy was the Czech Republic's submission to the Oscars amazes me as much as the film's astonishingly cynical content. Weaving an Altman-esque tapestry of chance encounters and unconnected individuals, it centres on the discovery of a baby lost in the shuffle of illegal immigration. Letting nothing go to waste, the smugglers sell the baby, setting off a chain reaction of racism and class conflict that no North American film would ever have the guts to depict.

From destitute losers with nothing but bigotry and soccer hooliganism to give them purpose to pompous bourgeois burghers preying on the immigrant influx for liberal self-adulation and smug racist paternalists who make excuses for their own immigrant offspring, the film spares no one, setting up sympathies only to break them and inspiring disgust only to reveal the assumptions behind it.

That the film doesn't include any major immigrant characters is a sticking point, as it leaves the film trapped in a national identity that is at once rigid and crumbling into dust. It also inches dangerously close to forgiving behaviour that needs to be understood but not tolerated.

But though it takes a few cheap shots and has its share of lulls and false starts, its looking-glass view of those clinging quixotically to the illusion of an unchanging Czech paradise is provocative enough to make the globalised landscape seem even harsher and unforgiving.

It'll make you laugh at the absurdity of it all, then shove the laughter down your throat as the infinite ambiguities pile up and fill your head with the impossible decisions that face one more nation with shattered expectations. (Mongrel Media)