In a year plagued by an abundance of mediocre films, it’s a distinct pleasure to report that this movie, which has been selected by the Czech Republic as its choice for Oscar consideration as Best Foreign Language Film, has it all; a compelling storyline, flawless acting, fluid cinematography and the shrewdness to challenge audiences with its deliberately ambiguous ending.
Renowned psychiatrist Pavel Josek is to be awarded a national medal for his selfless contributions to Czechoslovakia during the Communist era. In anticipation of the event, a Czech television network asks him to participate in a “60 Minutes” style interview which will also feature some of the accusations of collaboration against which Josek successfully defended himself more than a decade earlier. Josek and his wife Jana agree to be extensively questioned on film and in that process, the sound technician on the project (who happens to be Josek’s son-in-law) uncovers a report which suggests the doctor had indeed collaborated with the Communist government to harass and ultimately deport an artist named Borek. Despite heated rejections of the newly uncovered allegations by both Pavel and Jana, their married daughter Lucie discovers a motive for Josek’s complicity; Borek and Jana were once lovers and the Lucie’s paternity may turn on whether her supposed father is really her biological parent.
Borek, now a successful sculptor living in Sweden, welcomes a visit from Lucie and her teenage daughter. He candidly acknowledges his affair with Jana but assures Lucie he doesn’t know whether or not she’s his child. In a subsequent, blistering confrontation with Jana, Lucie learns the extent to which people living under totalitarian regimes can be manipulated into complicity and its consequent cover-up.
Borek comes to Prague to attend the ceremony awarding Josek “The Memory of the Nation” award only to hear the chastened psychiatrist apologize to a “someone I hurt”…
In many ways, Kawasaki’s Rose is the reverse image of The Lives of Others, the German film which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2006. In that movie, a loathsome government agent redeems himself by refusing to implicate a couple whose talents and value system he secretly admires; here, the ostensibly noble psychiatrist emerges as a man whose self-deprecation may provide the clearest picture of his character. He’s generous with his time and talents, chooses not to reply to his accusers with enraged self-justification…and he’s been an exemplary husband and father to Jana and Lucie. But how does one measure good results if they flow from evil intentions? When Joseck pleads to let the past slip away without recrimination, is he preaching a noble ideal…or salving his own conscious - - or both? Was Borek really a drunken, unstable troublemaker, deported despite Josek’s professional care, or was the sculptor then, as he is now, a man who chooses to forgive if not forget?
Director Jan Hrebyk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky have worked together before (Shameless) and their collaboration is seamless - - the perfectly-selected cast and their uniformly striking performances combine with cinematographer Martin Sacha’s languid visual style to provide a striking portrait of a society struggling with its totalitarian past and those who were complicit in its operation. In choosing to repeatedly focus on the languid waters of Stockholm’s port and the ships which slip gracefully through its waters, Kawasaki’s Rose suggests that time, like the ocean, is best mastered by careful attention rather than denial or obstinate confrontation.
The Verdict? A brilliant and challenging film, easily one of the year’s best.
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