Beauty in Trouble
This must be the new women’s health game from Nintendo.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/16/2009
Director: Jan Hrebejk
Cast: Anna Geislerová, Jirí Schmitzer, Jana Brejchová, Roman Luknár, Emília Vásáryová, Adam Misík, Michaela Mrvíková

Should you happen to be close to an independent/foreign film oriented theater, you might see the Czech film “Beauty in Trouble” hitting the marquee. From filmmaker Jan Hrebejk, the film revolves around a woman who can’t seem to keep drama out of her life.

A teenage pregnancy was only the beginning, as she ended up marrying an auto mechanic/car thief and has a few issues with her stepfather – who has managed to dominate her mother’s household. The kids have taken a cue from their mom and tend to look out for themselves since that appears to be genetically inherited. Once mom decides to leave dad (and he ends up in jail), she and the kids move back in with grandma and the appearance of a wealthy stranger will shape the course of their lives to come. That’s a gross oversimplification and a somewhat bending of the plot but it all moves like a soap opera so trying to encapsulate it without writing a seven page paper doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Hrebejk’s sensibilities skew the film towards a mixed bag of dark comedy, tragedy and redemption. Since I’ve never proclaimed to be an expert on Czech cinema, I can’t say this with too much certainty but it felt like this was geared towards audiences who expect this shuffling of tones. Much like American audiences want comedy mixed with romance all thrown together with a happy ending and no harm coming to animals, other cultures’ films have a perspective on life that mirrors the populace and the consistency to which “Beauty in Trouble” balances itself leads me to believe that’s the case here.

Sadly, most elements of the film are in the average category; The cinematography is so-so and while the acting is decent, the film’s resolution and plot devices didn’t resonate strongly for me. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the film is the soundtrack. If you like Glen Hansard’s music (which you would have heard most recently in 2007′s “Once“), then you’re in luck here because there are four songs of his prominently on display here (including two from the aforementioned film). The other dominant musical act is that of Raduza, who dresses like a Czech Johnny Cash and reminds me of a cross between Ani DiFranco and Judy Tenuta (yeah … it’s that hard to explain).

In both cases, the biggest problem is that the songs are the driving force behind the film’s emotional core. They are the elements that dictate what is being said on screen, rather than the script, acting or direction. I’m all for including Hansard’s songs but it all felt forced and overshadowed the film.

It may seem like I’m dogging the film but I don’t want that to necessarily be what you take away from this review. While this isn’t a film I feel must be seen by as many people as I can shake a stick at, it does have a number of genuine moments and if you like dark humor, some of the jokes will turn that frown upside down.

However, due to the manner in which Hrebejk has composed the film, this isn’t a straight comedy, drama or romance. There are elements of all three and while I felt the ending (and events leading up to it) rang hollow, there are plenty of worse ways to spend a few hours of your afternoon. A 3 out of 5, foreign film fans will find something to appreciate here and it has piqued my curiosity into seeing other Czech films to see if the same sensibilities carry through them as well.