Published Jun 04, 2009Empties serves as something of a spiritual successor to Jan Svěrák's 1996 Academy Award-winning Kolja. Here again, screenwriter Zdeněk Svěrák stars as a restless late-lifer (manifested with marginal subtlety in involuntary muscle spasms and facial tics) with a relish for life matched by a fondness for younger women.
After retiring from his post as a literature teacher in a Prague high school, Josef Tkaloun (Svěrák) is left eager to explore his autumn years. Taking a job as a bicycle courier then, after the inevitable accident, as a clerk at a supermarket, where he gives customers receipts for their empty bottles, Josef idles away his shifts matchmaking his co-workers, customers and daughter (Tatoama Vihelmová), while spending his spare hours fantasizing about nubile women dolled up in stewardess outfits as if he were an aging Guido Anselmi.
All this incessant idling has left Josef alienated from his wife (Daniela Kolářová), who herself harbours something of an extramarital crush on one of her German language pupils. Formless, meandering and listlessly paced, this Svěrák family affair works to present itself as some negotiation of all the various strains that come part and parcel with getting a little long in the tooth. But with thematics as frail as its hero's irregular heartbeat, Empties unfolds as little more than Zdeněk Svěrák's romanticized ruminations on his relationships.
The Svěráks so thoroughly anchor the film in Josef's sprightly gait, sly winks and Falstaffian demeanour that his more brazen insensitivities towards friends and family can slip by almost entirely unpunished. As in Kolja, the film's hero must learn to connect with someone dear to them — here it is his emotionally estranged wife — but Josef's stabs at marital reconciliation are too little, too late, and his staged attempt at reconnection amounts to little more than just another patently misogynist flight of fancy.
Like Josef, Empties' terminal light-heartedness seems steeped in the creative feebleness of both papa Svěrák and son Jan. (Maple)