Family Secrets, Unfolding Darkly In 'Kawasaki's Rose'

Daniela Kolarova and Martin Huba

Jana, played by Daniela Kolarova, and her husband, Pavel (Martin Huba), are interviewed for a documentary when Pavel receives the "Memory of the Nation" award, but the documentary threatens to reveal personal secrets and divide a family. Menemsha Films hide caption

itoggle caption Menemsha Films

Kawasaki's Rose

  • Director: Jan Hrebejk
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

Not rated: profanity, sexual situation.

With: Martin Huba, Lenka Vlasakova, Daniela Kolarova, Milan Mikulcik, Antonin Kratochvil

In Czech with English subtitles

Watch A Clip

Czech director Jan Hrebejk is a master of clashing tones, capable of melding comedy and drama in movies that broach such contentious topics as immigration, neo-rightist racism and even — in the Oscar-nominated Divided We Fall — the Holocaust. He's done it again with Kawasaki's Rose, inspired partly by the German secret-police saga The Lives of Others.

Turning on allegations that a Communist-era Czech dissident actually collaborated with the state security bureau, Kawasaki's Rose ponders guilt, compromise and forgiveness. Like Hrebejk's other films, it boasts a deft ensemble cast and fluid shifts in mood, even if Petr Jarchovsky's screenplay isn't the most graceful of the 10 he's written or co-written for Hrebejk.

That's mostly because the overstuffed story extends from Prague to Sweden and (indirectly) Japan. The movie's very title is an example of overreach. It alludes to a complex piece of origami, but the narrative strand that explains the reference feels extraneous.

At the center of the film's controversy is Pavel (Martin Huba), a noted psychiatrist who's about to receive the prestigious "Memory of the Nation" award. But there are some things he and wife Jana (Daniela Kolarova) would just as soon forget. To complicate the situation, the imminent honor has brought a documentary crew to Pavel and Jana's apartment.

And to really make it messy, that crew includes the couple's son-in-law, Ludek (Milan Mikulcik), and his young lover, Radka (Petra Hrebickova). Ludek has reason to be defensive: He was cheating on Pavel and Jana's daughter, Lucie (Lenka Vlasakova), while she was being treated for a rare type of tumor.

Lenka Vlasakova and Anna Simonova i i

Pavel and Jana's daughter, Lucie (Lenka Vlasakova), has a heart-to-heart with her daughter, Bara (Anna Simonova). Menemsha Films hide caption

itoggle caption Menemsha Films
Lenka Vlasakova and Anna Simonova

Pavel and Jana's daughter, Lucie (Lenka Vlasakova), has a heart-to-heart with her daughter, Bara (Anna Simonova).

Menemsha Films

By the way, is Lucie really Pavel's daughter? That question will require a detour to Gothenburg, where Jana's sculptor ex-boyfriend (Antonin Kratochvil) landed after being expelled from Czechoslovakia almost 40 years ago.

Ludek has long resented his father-in-law, and is happy to change the subject from his own infidelity to a newly unearthed police report. It may show that Pavel, venerated for heroically signing the anti-Communist Charter '77, wasn't always so heroic in his dealings with the totalitarian regime.

While this solemn subject is being developed, Hrebejk introduces Pavel's granddaughter, a pink-haired punkette with tastes for chocolate and larceny. Eventually, we also meet the movie's namesake, an expatriate Japanese artist whose back story is the biggest stretch in a script that too often strains in distracting directions.

Kawasaki's Rose is the first Czech or Slovak film to address the issue of collaboration with the former Czechoslovakia's bygone secret police. That history must still be raw for some who survived the era, as it is in The Lives of Others. But this movie is gentler in outlook, without raging recriminations or abject apologies. While poking fun at the Western taste for Asian wisdom, the filmmakers seem to counsel a Buddhist-style acceptance of past infamies.

Not entirely, though. The movie's characters include a one-time police interrogator — named Kafka, no less — who insists his actions were necessary and humane. He's a minor figure, but Kawasaki's Rose ends with him, in an epilogue that's a small but chilling illustration of the banality of evil.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.