UP AND DOWN (Jan Hrebějk, 2004)

Eventually both story-lines of Horem pádem, from the Czech Republic, intersect. One is fine; the other, terrible.
     The film begins with two truck drivers unloading their delivery of illegal Indian immigrants in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night. They discover that a baby has been (accidentally) left behind. “Got any formula?” one asks at their first stop, a pawnshop. “I didn’t steal it,” Mila, who has been aching for a child, explains to her husband, security guard, Franta, whose criminal record is the reason they cannot adopt; “I bought it!” “My God,” Franta notes upon seeing the infant boy. “He’s black!” Mila opines that little Franta’s skin color will lighten over time.
     I find this story, which is broad farce headed for disaster for Mila and Franta, forced, crude, unfunny. Because of its racial prejudice, Franta leaves the football-spectator club to which he belongs; when the baby is confiscated and returned to his mother, Franta is back with his buddies yelling at the television screen during a match, “Black motherfucker!” This is, for me, grotesque point-making.
     But the other story-line, which deals with a complicated family situation, is affecting. Otakar Horecký is a university professor who is very ill. Hana, his partner, with whom he has an 18-year-old daughter, used to be his son Martin’s girlfriend; as a result, twenty years ago Martin moved to Australia, where he has a wife and son and currently runs a surfing shop. Martin (Petr Forman, Milos’s son, wonderful) at times feels a failure. Meanwhile, Martin’s mother, Vera, has yet to agree to a divorce; she remains devastated by her spouse’s abandonment of her.
     Keep your eyes pealed for a piercing freeze frame; look forward to a very moving coda in Australia.
     Jan Hrebějk directed.

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