Films on this subject crop up regularly, at least in international cinema. One example that screened in Miami recently is the fine Argentine drama Lugares Comunes. Autumn Spring opts for comedy, using a black, particularly Slavic sense of humor, making jokes about what otherwise would be downright depressing subjects. It is notable chiefly as the final film in the estimable career of the veteran Czech actor Vlastimil Brodsky, who died soon after this film was completed. Brodsky (Closely Watched Trains, Jacob the Liar) virtually embodied modern Czech cinema and also had a major impact as a stage actor. With a rubbery, sagging face and a shambling gait, Brodsky's deft, wry performance as Fanda anchors the film, ably abetted by Stella Zazvorkova as Emilie and Stanislav Zindulka as Eda. Zazvorkova does particularly well as a thoroughly conventional woman tortured by her husband's eccentricities.
All three performers enjoyed a career-long friendship that is palpable on the screen. It's also a pleasure to take a quick peek into ordinary Czech lives. Although many many films are now shot in the picturesque old sections of the city, the modern areas rarely are seen, at least in films that play here.
But while the performances shine, they can't fully illuminate Jiri Hubac's meandering script or Vladimir Michalek's listless direction. Michalek opts for a uniformly measured pace and uninspired camerawork that favors repetitive use of lateral dolly shots in almost every scene. There is precious little urgency or passion in this filmmaking. Most every aspect of it -- the direction, the production values, the editing -- feels workmanlike and wholly risk-free. As a result, much of the dialogue-heavy scene work, a courtroom sequence especially, is only marginally more compelling than watching paint dry.
When Brodsky began his long career, the Czechs were on the cutting edge of world cinema. Caught between national desires for freedom and crushing Soviet domination, Czech filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s had a lot to say to the world. But Brodsky is gone now and with him a great era of Czech filmmaking. It has taken on the characteristics of European cinema in general -- careful construction, risk-free torpidity. Certainly films of far greater urgency, imagination, and passion are coming from Latin America and from Asia. Like old Fanta, European cinema seems on the way out.