Strange noises. Suddenly, a clumsy boy in camouflage appears out of nowhere. He carries a toy gun, taking aim at passing cars. An Audi appears on the horizon, and Heduš (Jan František Uher), the camouflaged boy, recognises the driver, Mára (Tomáš Mrvík). The car’s stolen and Mára’s on the run. Not because he’s stolen the car, though. He just wants to get away. So does Heduš, and the two set off on a road trip…
Change of scenery. Mára sits at the police station, interrogated by two officers. With a cool demeanour and his shaved head, he’s not fazed by the policeman (Martin Pechlát) calling him a transvestite for having a girl’s sweatshirt with him. No matter how the policeman provokes him, Mára refuses to tell the officers where he’s come from and where he was planning to go to – and is adamant that he’s travelled all by himself. But then, where’s Heduš? We don’t know.
Switching between Mára’s interrogation and the two boys’ journey, we go back and forth to unravel the story. The boys are playing it cool, but it soon transpires from their conversations that neither of them has run away just for the fun of it – well, maybe a little bit. But mostly, they just want to get away from their broken homes and find somewhere better. For Heduš, the clumsy and slightly dumb one, the goal’s France, based on Mára’s stories about his grandfather, who apparently fought in the French Legion. For Mára, the driver and cool-headed one, his grandfather’s house on the other side of Czechia’s where the journey goes.
On the way, the two boys rescue a dog and name him Jackal, and they pick up a pretty girl (Eliška Křenková) who’s left her motor-cyclist boyfriend and now hitch-hikes to continue her journey. They take her all the way to her little weekend home in the mountains, hoping to, as Heduš puts it, ‘get some’. Mára plays the experienced one and tries to teach his companion how to get Bára, the girl, into bed. She’s having none of it. Really, the two boys don’t stand a chance, but they play it cool, as ever. We don’t even know if Mára’s actually had a relationship with a girl before – but his ‘guy talk’ certainly impresses Heduš. And this is one of the best things about Winter Flies: it’s enticingly realistic in its depiction teenage life with all its difficulties, its show-off fantasies, and its attempts to look cool, no matter the cost.
Back at the police station. As soon as her colleague’s left, policewoman Freiwaldová, played by the wonderful Lenka Vlasáková, takes over the interrogation. Nice and caring at first, her conversation with Mára soon takes a dark turn, showing Freiwaldová to be a mastermind of psychological manipulation. In her supporting role as the cunning policewoman, Vlasáková shows her impressive register as an actress, easily making Freiwaldová the film’s best character – complex and utterly convincing.
Winter Flies lives on the slow unravelling of its characters’ psychological profiles, coming to the fore through the grey, dull scenery, the long shots, and the carefully chosen music and sounds that underline it all. Chosen as Czechia’s entry for the 91stAcademy Awards, Olmerzu’s film’s full of twists and turns, parallel storytelling and revelations without being sensationalistic. Director Olmerzu’s attention to detail isn’t only visible in the carefully crafted psychological profiles of his characters. He also gives space to the winter landscape the film plays in, and even takes time to follow animals, here a hedgehog, there a hare, that move within it. No matter how contrasting these short sequences may seem to the rest of the storyline, they don’t disrupt the flow of the film. Rather, they add some moments of quiet in which the serene landscapes feel like moments of escape from the grim and grey world that Mára and Heduš live in. It’s most obvious from these quiet scenes with how much attention to detail Winter Flies was created. And in an understated way, these scenes connect Mára and Heduš’s teenage adventures to bigger existential questions. It’s be easy to call Winter Flies a road movie – but it’s actually much more.
Winter Flies screens at Regent Street Cinema on 4 November at 6.05 pm.