I had the opportunity to watch a preview of a film by Václav Marhoul, The Painted Bird. Although I had been warned about what i was in for, the film still surprised me. At the festivals in Venice and Toronto, viewers couldn't stomach it and many of them left the screening early, saying they were scarred for the rest of their lives, and began dialling the numbers of their psychiatrists and therapists already while running out of the screening hall. But Czechs? Most didn't even flinch. Is it because we are aware of what our nation had to endure for freedom? Is it because we have become completely cynical or indifferent?
I don't know, I can't tell, but it's definitely food for thought. What kind of genre is this, anyway? It's neither a horror film nor a documentary, it is simply a three-hour sequence of disgusting, brutal and very realistic images. Foreign critics speak of a phantasmagoric horror, an intensifying display of evil or extraordinarily heavy loads of suffering and sadism. I can only agree.
The survivors, some of which are still alive today, as well as the historians and historical records, speak volumes about the horrors that we Czechs have experienced. Wars, occupation, extermination of Jews, the Communists... I won't bore you or myself with presenting the full list. Maybe that's why over 1,600 people arrived at the Congress Center to watch the preview. And only seven people left early (no sooner than 2 hours into the movie!). Seven! Either with the words that the brutality and gore was starting to be too much for their taste, or that the movie was too long, or that their whole body hurt from sitting.
However, unlike the international audience, nobody was surprised beyond their expectations. Not a single person. On the contrary, all those who remained in their seats until the end (even thought they might have done so because of the following banquet, it was hard to say), applauded and praised Vladimír Smutný's excellent camera, which was truly extraordinary. They praised the profoundness of the film, the plot and everything else. Which again gives me the impression that we, the Czechs, can take pretty much everything, and we're able to find something worthy of praising as a grand success and raising our glass to even in a pile of filthy dung. As a nation, we are truly incredible.
Like honestly? There is not a single pleasant or cheerful moment in this movie. It's about this little boy, who already feels hopeless in the house of his aunt at very beginning of the three-hour tour through Hell, so I don't even blame him for not trying to extinguish the house with his aunt's corpse that's been set on fire by mistake.
Let's think about the things that could happen to a nine-year-old Jewish boy that looks like a gypsy on his way home. Now, whatever pops up in your mind, multiply that idea a hundred times. And you still won't get anywhere close. They treat him like the Devil himself, the Germans want to kill him, multiple times, he sees violence against women, actually even men, when one guy pokes another guy's eyes out with a spoon and feeds them to cats, some crazy old bat buries him in the ground leaving only his head sticking out, so ravens start pecking on him, because of an unfortunate fall, he gets thrown into the cesspool (this scene made me want to vomit)...
...with all that, when he's finally raped by a pedophile, you won't even find it in yourself to be surprised. Really. Because at this point, you're telling yourself it's probably the only thing that hasn't happened to him yet.
But wait, there's more! The boy is nine years old in the movie, so it doesn't occur to you that a woman will want to rape him, too... Yet one does! But strangely enough, it doesn't go smoothly with the kid, so the young nymph decides to have her revenge...
I've been waiting for this particular scene - intercourse with a goat. I was wondering what it would look like. Because when it doesn't work with a kid, a goes will make up for the disappointment. Interestingly, actress Júlia Valentová confided before the screening that she had been pregnant during the filming of this scene, but she hadn't told anyone, and so she'd been afraid the bestiality could cause her to have a miscarriage. Pretty funny, don't you think? Imagine her telling her gynecologist: I miscarried while copulating with a goat...
I have just one thing to add. Václav Marhoul is a great director. All the actors delivered completely fascinating performances. But was it really necessary to throw 175 million crowns out of the window for something that only movie enthusiasts or madmen can stomach? Do the producers really think they'll get the money back? I guess I'll have to wait and see, but I don't think there are enough Czech people who'd go to see an overpriced movie, I don't think it's possible to see this twice, and people abroad are leaving the screening halls early, overwhelmed by all those horrors… I don't know how about you, but I'd have a few better ideas on how to spend such a truckload of cash.
By the way, Marhoul had a twenty-minute monologue before the screening, describing how he'd been searching for funding everywhere and listing all the people who'd donated or lent him some money. For this?!
And here's a bonus joke - the main character Petr Kotlár, who has a stellar career in acting before him, hasn't even seen his epic movie. He has a ban! The film has been rated R18. So, even thought the poor kid lived through most of the horrors there, he will only be able to see the whole thing a couple of years later.