Autumn Spring

(Vladimir Michalek, Czechoslovakia, 2001)


Twenty-five years ago, a warm-and-fuzzy humanist film from Czechoslovakia about the joys and travails of senior citizens would have taken pride of place at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). Today, the delightful Autumn Spring, already three years old, unreels for its modest commercial release in a cinema far from any MIFF venue.

The simultaneity of Autumn Spring and MIFF is too striking to be merely coincidental. Has the distributor of this film decided that the audience which would have once loved it at MIFF – an audience now itself essentially comprising senior citizens – today stays away from that event, scared off by all those gory Asian action and horror movies? Is this film offered as a gift to such disenfranchised viewers? Or maybe it was rejected as suitably hip fare by the Festival programmers?

Whatever the explanation, Autumn Spring is a modest but very satisfying film which should not be overlooked. It tells the tale of Fanda (Vlastimil Brodsky), an old rascal who, with his best friend, Eda (Stanislav Zindulka), squanders his money and embarks on various scams – purely for fun and thrills. He was once an actor, and he has never given up the joy of pretending to be someone else.

Fanda has, in the best way, never grown up. By contrast, his long-suffering wife, Emilie (Stella Zazvorkova), is a self-confessed stick-in-the-mud who is going crazy trying to sort out the chaotic situations her husband blithely creates. When Fanda gets tripped up by one of his own masquerades, the steps he must take lead to a crisis in the marriage.

The message of this film is simple but affecting: enjoy life, never settle for the compromises and obligations of a merely dutiful existence. Director Vladimir Michalek and writer Jiri Hubac elegantly unfold this theme through many dramatic and comic variations, including snippets of the confused family life of Fanda and Eda’s adult son, Jara (Ondrej Vetchy).

Brodsky, who suicided in 2002, was among the most beloved of Czech actors. He is recognisable from his work with such ’60s New Wave filmmakers as JirĂ­ Menzel. Hubac, another veteran of that era, tailored the script specifically around Brodsky’s droll, subtle performance skills. Everything in this film is pleasing and exactly judged, but Brodsky is its true heart.

MORE Czech cinema: My Sweet Little Village

© Adrian Martin July 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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