Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kawasaki's Rose

This is a fantastic Czech movie, set in the present. A movie crew is filming Pavel and Jana, as Pavel is about to get a medal, both for his post-revolution achievements and for making a stand against the communists back before the Velvet Revolution.

I wondered what might be found: the Police organisations in states like the now Czech Republic and other Eastern block countries were notorious for the fanatic way in which records were kept, no matter how suspect the methods used to obtain the information recorded. Sure enough, the events of those times prove to cast a long shadow over the present.

I struggled for a while with the title, as it didn't seem to have any kind of reference within the film. Eventually, however, there is a Japanese fellow by the name of Toshik Kawasaki who does indeed paint a rose (after fifteen years of not being able to, thanks to the sarin poisoning in the Tokyo subway). Film-maker Jan Hrebejk has another notion in mind: Kawasaki's Rose is also one of the hardest figures to make in origami. His point is that the overall shape might appear simple, but there are many complexities in its creation. I don't think he's talking about the movie so much as the present.

So, while there are skeletons in Pavel's closet, the movie is not at all polemic in its tone. The story gradually unfolds, thanks to Ludek (one of the crew making the movie) who just happens to have found a complete version of Pavel's file and decides to dig for the truth. This might normally be seen as noble, but motivation is rendered murky by the fact that Ludek is Pavel's son in law and has a burning rsentment against him. Ludek's own truthfulness is brought into question very early in the film, when it is revealed that he's been cheating on his wife, Lucie. I didn't buy the bollocks he and Radka, the woman he was involved with, tried to sell Lucie about truth-telling being important to forgiveness and moving on. Sure, it is a great concept and works well with the overall theme and momentum of the movie, but in this scene, it all seemed a bit fake.

Two other characters are important: Borek, the man Pavel is said to have wronged, and Kafka (yes, really), the agent of the secret Police who used Pavel as his instrument to get rid of Borek. There is a nice parallel with real life in that Antonín Kratochvíl, who plays Borek, also left the country as a reaction to the regime prior to the Velvet Revolution, although not under quite such dramatic circumstances. Borek moved to Sweden where he creates sculpted balls - he had branched out into cones, but thought it best to focus on one shape. You wonder if his life is better or worse than it would have been had he stayed home.

Kafka, who had interrogated Borek, denies any use of force or even any need to, saying that you have to remeber this is the 1970's, only the inept use violence. The technique in the 1970's focused on mind-games and traps, gathering information to use against a person so that a person falls into error. The director, Hrebejk, has said that
In Kawasaki’s Rose, we tried to expose the mechanisms with which the totalitarian power, more specifically the secret police literally destroyed people or got them to compromise their morals. Sometimes it wasn’t about getting rid of people or getting them to emigrate, but driving them to compromise themselves, and I think that there are a lot of myths surrounding that. Even people who lived during that time don’t have an exact memory of it. Or they never got into contact with the secret police and don’t understand the mechanisms with which the secret police worked." (
This makes it extremely difficult to say that the actions of a person caught in such a trap are morally wrong, although, as Pavel admits, it is weakness and cowardice. His daughter, Lucie, has a real problem with him being what she calls a snitch, but there are other factors which might be at the root of her distress. Strangely enough, Radka (who was also in the film crew) comes through as the person most sympathetic to Pavel.

With the various family controversies and grapplings with the past to deal with, this was not exactly a funny movie (despite Hrebejk's history of making comedies). There were a couple of lighter moments, such as when Lucie learns that she has had a tumour of a type which does not normally grow in humans. When sharing this with Ludek, she says "You always thought I was a bit of a cow" and considers moving to India to take advantage of being sacred. But while humour was not the focus, it remained a fairly warm movie, lots of intimate photography with appealing colours and shading.

Morally mixed as everything may have been, there was a "victor", and the disturbing final scene shows who that was.

Labels: ,