2006 // Czech Republic // Jan Hrebejk // February 11, 2009 // Theatrical Print
B - The sly success of Jan Hrebejk's blackly comic melodrama, Beauty in Trouble, lies in its gently provocative probing of human behavior within a soap opera framework drunk on guilty pleasures. Borrowing from the Robert Graves poem for its title and tragic seed, Herbejk's film discovers a refreshing stance towards its characters, particularly Marsela, a stubborn Czech redhead who promises a sunny, skanky eroticism. Beauty's heroine finds herself tugged and provoked by bullies, saviors, obligations, and lusts, but Hrebejk shrewdly avoids both finger-wagging and chilly distance. Instead, the film challenges assumptions about how weary, battered people reconcile their conflicting motivations, all while maintaining a tone of puzzled affection even for its ostensible villains. Allegorical readings abound, especially with respect to the Czech Republic's place in tomorrow's Europe. This thematic complexity complements Beauty's most memorable scenes, which are soaked in pure, giddy drama: an unbearably tense confrontation over cookies; a furious, regretful bout of coitus above a chop shop; and the slow, stupid realization that a sleeping figure is stone dead. Not even a soundtrack that notoriously passes around songs with John Carney's Once distracts from Beauty's lurid baubles and restless musings.