For my first feature of the VIFF, I saw a Czech film entitled Patrimony. The film makes for an entertaining comedy about a subject one would not find comedy material.
The film begins with a funeral for a musician: a trumpeter. The wife, a fashion designer herself named Eva, finds herself lonely and she feels she will be left completely alone. The daughter Tereza is also hurting. She calls his phone just to hear the answering machine to hear his voice. Meanwhile she’s also struggling with her battle with cancer. Despite being helped by her husband, she feels she needs time to be with her mother.
As the daughter visits, the first thing they do is lay his ashes to rest; at least the urn as the mother wants them on his cactuses. However the daughter stumbles across a possible secret in her father’s coat. She sees a drawing of her father and a child. It’s not hers. She notices it’s from a boy names Tomas. Tereza has always been raised to think she was an only child. Could her father have fathered a child with another woman? Even her mother confesses that both she and Ludwik had extramarital affairs. It is from that revelation they decide to go on a trip to find Tomas, using Ludvik’s Volga Gaz 21.
The first visit is with family members in a nearby town. They learn more about Ludvik and his past. They also encounter a lot of crazy happenings inside the house as she has three daughters of various ages to look after. As they go on to their next place of visit, both women discover a sense of freedom when they go from place to place from country farms to town carnivals. Eva herself finds herself interested in other men. However Tereza is not immune from realities as she still has her cancer battles and the status of her marriage in question. Also revealed from Eva is that she was just as adulterous as Ludvik during the marriage.
The next place they visit is an elderly person’s home. One of Ludvik’s ex-lovers is there. She herself has a lot to say about Ludvik and even gives away another big secret they never knew. No doubt that gives Tereza a lot of concern on her mind. At the same time, it appears Eva doesn’t want the ‘love son’ of Eva to be a reality.
It’s then a visit to a family member out in the countryside. They’re a couple who farm apple trees. The husband used to lead, but he now has a mental condition where he’s despondent most of the time, but suddenly becomes the farm boss in an instant. During the visit, her husband comes to assist. It’s there where he confronts her on the status of the marriage. She gives him the hard truth. Just as he’s stating his case, the farm head goes back into his phase as the ‘farm boss’ and orders those around to get to work and pick apples. All including Eva, Tereza and her husband help out.
It’s there where the husband confesses his truths about the marriage and gives Tereza a day to think it over. It’s also through that visit that they learn the Eva knew about Tomas all along and even played step-mother at times. She kept it a secret from Tereza the whole time. The film ends as the two are in pursuit of Tomas and Tereza has made her decision about the marriage.
There are two unique things about this film. The first is that it makes a comedy of what would consider to be a dark situation in people’s lives. One would think the grieving process of a death, a bout with cancer, and learning of a family secret would not combine into a comedy, but it does. It does it very well with a mix of humor and drama. The film however doesn’t stray away from the emotional aspect of the situation and what has happened. Nevertheless the blend of the humorous and the serious works here.
The second thing about the film is that you think the story is about one thing, but it turns out to be about something else in the end. You think that the film would end with the daughter and the mother seeing the son Tomas. However it doesn’t end that way. Instead it’s about hidden truths unraveled. At first it’s made to look like a truth Eva doesn’t want to know, but instead it’s a truth Eva tried to hide from Tereza. Who knew that Eva made a better closer mother to Tomas than Ludwig did? At the same time, it’s about a mother/daughter relationship as the two are slowly healing together as they’re going on this pursuit. The rockiness of Tereza’s marriage is brought to light, but that too is helped by the trip, in a surprising way.
One of the common themes of the film is the topic of death and the nearing of the end of one’s life. It begins after the death of Ludvik. It starts with a focus of how Eva will live without Ludvik. It also focuses on Tereza and her bout with cancer. She thinks it’s fatal while the mother reminds her that her chances of survival are still very good. It deals with family and ex-lovers who have either felt the strains of aging or are themselves in the closing chapter of their lives. It’s a theme which is dealt with in good sensitivity in this film but also blends in humorous elements. It’s a tricky job to do where the fine line can easily be crossed, but Jiri succeeds in doing it.
Jiri Vejdelek directs and co-writes with Iva Jestrabova an excellent story that’s full of real feelings and emotions, but also made comical at the same time. Eliska Balzerova does a very good job of balancing the dramatic with the comedic in her acting. Tatiana Vilhelmova is also very good as the daughter coping with everything around her. However the two show an excellent mother/daughter chemistry that makes this story work. The supporting characters also did their jobs well as their characters came across as believable and very three-dimensional.
Patrimony is a very smart Czech comedy that’s very entertaining. It follows a smooth story line, but it doesn’t end the way most would anticipate it to. Maybe the plot you thought it would be about wasn’t the main plot after all.