Periodically, the assmiliated Jewish protagonist (Karel Hermánek, excellent), married and the father of three young boys, espies out in the country a group of lovely, graceful, dreamlike deer, and his soul is transported to a serene, wondrous place. When a dog takes after the deer, the dream vanishes, and anxiety and disgust seize the man’s spirit.
From autobiographical stories by Ota Pavel[in], Karel Kachyňa’s beauteous, darkening comedy Smrt krásných srnců—Forbidden Dreams in the States—follows the go-getter’s efforts to provide for his family. In Prague, a door-to-door salesman of vacuum cleaners and other electrical appliances, he makes an hilarious mess of people’s floors while demonstrating the vacuum’s use, but he develops a knack for making sales anyway by converting the cleaner into an instrument of foreplay landing him in bed with excited female clients. Obsessively fishing in his off-hours, he is snookered into buying an expensive pond that turns out to house one lone carp. He populates his pond with fish. The Germans roll in, appropriating—“Aryanizing”—the pond. When the pond freezes over, clandestinely the man risks his life to dig a space so that the fish can breathe. In the dark of night, the resultant image of a freshly dug grave chills. Now his two older boys have been notified of their upcoming transport to the Nazi camp at Theresienstadt. (Their father knows he will soon follow. The toddler left behind is Ota Pavel[in].) His mission becomes to feed his sons before their departure, even if it means killing one of those beautiful deer.
The fracturing derived from the film’s different perspectives—voiceover expressing Pavel[in]’s perspective pierces, devastates—contributes to a complex, brilliant, irresistible result—one whose color, drained like a pond, hovers near, sometimes inside, black and white.
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