Czech cinema has a long and celebrated tradition of dramatic comedies based on village life. Director Miroslav Krobot has added the dark, apathetic, and enjoyable Nowhere in Moravia (Dira u Hanusovic) to this canon, with a cast taken primarily from Prague’s award-winning Dejvice Theater.
Set in the Jesenik Mountains in Northern Moravia, the film centres on thirty-something Maruna (Tatjana Vilhelmová), who has returned to Hanušovice, her native village, after a career as a German teacher. While the audience never learns the specific reason for Maruna’s homecoming, the film finds her entrenched in village life. She runs the small local pub – home to the town’s only television – and shares her family home with her sister Jaruna (Lenka Krobortová, the director’s daughter), a nurse, and her overbearing, sickly, and single mother (Johanna Tesařová).
Maruna’s disenchantment is enhanced by the lack of eligible bachelors in the area. Possessed of a healthy and matter of fact libido, and without a sexual outlet, she finds temporary comfort in the beds of the hunting-obsessed and addled mayor Jura (Ivan Trojan), and roofer and local ladies’ man Kodl (Lukáš Latinák). She also allows the simple-minded gravedigger Olin (Jaroslav Plesl), apparently the only person in the village who works, an occasional fondle or two, providing he paints her pantry.
Elsewhere in the village, brothers Ladin (Hynek Čermák) and Balin (David Novotný) live in a run-down shack and each sleep with “Lad’a’s Old Lady” (Simona Babčáková), whose major character traits are unapologetic hard drinking and sexual availability, and whose real name is never learned. Lacking even the derelict comforts of a shed, the hobo Stinky (Martin Myšička) survives with two other vagrants in the village in the open air.
The film is anchored by death: it begins with a funeral, and ends with a heart attack and a murder, with each demise pushing the town closer to “nowhere” than ever before. Although life is hard, the locals seem resigned to their place in the world, with little interest in events outside of the village or any form of morality other than their own. The eccentric characters interact in a loose narrative, where pálenka (plum brandy) and black humour are the main comforts in a life with little opportunity and fewer people. For Maruna, the pressing boredom of life in Hanušovice is eventually brought to a head when she befriends a German man who reminds her of the possibilities of life elsewhere.
Non-Czech audiences may find the film lacking in structure, as it relies largely on the eccentricities of its characters and vignettes of village life to drive itself. The ramshackle village and its surrounding countryside, with the slow pace of life, collapsing buildings, and almost total isolation is meant to explain the decisions and mindsets of the villagers. While the three deaths in rapid succession seem like they should cause upheaval to the audience, to the characters they are simply more disappointments in a village overflowing with them. The audience may be left wondering when something is going to happen, but so too are the villagers. The monotony is the point.
Vilhelmovná’s pitch-perfect performance as Maruna is highly enjoyable, and she exudes resigned ennui and a frustrated, earthy sexuality. The prolific Trojan’s Jura is also noteworthy, and refreshingly against type. Babčáková’s turn as Lad’a’s Old Lady, in particular is a grotesque delight, and she steals each scene she features in.
Those who enjoyed My Sweet Little Village (Vestnicko má stredisková) or, more recently, The Wild Bees (Divokévcely), will also like Nowhere in Moravia and its dark, character-driven storyline. For those with little experience of Czech cinema, the film is an excellent introduction to a distinctly Czech genre. While Krobot and co-writer Lubomír Smékal’s plot may not be ground-breaking, they nevertheless bring an instantly recognisable picture of frustrated rural Czech life to the screen. The characters are flawed, and in some cases intensely unlikable, but that is who they are. For better or worse, this is life in Hanušovice. It’s best if you can laugh at it.
Nowhere in Moravia (Krobot, 2014) was part of the ‘Made in Prague’ Festival, organised by the Czech Centre, London.