by Matthew Sorrento
Films often speculate about how we’d react should a partner we thought dead (or approaching death) suddenly reappear. In Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character returns home to find that his wife has moved on; in Frank Darabont’s current AMC series, The Walking Dead, the wife of a police officer thought dead has taken up with his close friend, though when her husband returns, the wife resumes her marriage, trying to hide her newer relationship. The film Kawasaki’s Rose – the Czech Republic’s 2010 entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar, which is now playing at the Film Forum in New York – features a documentary producer named Ludek (Milan Mikulcik), who has developed a relationship with a coworker Radka (Petra Hrebickova) while his wife appears to be terminal, away in a hospital. When his wife Lucie (Lenka Vlasakova) proves healthy, Ludek decides to straddle the fence by disclosing the affair to his wife, with the mistress present, hoping to resolve and keep all content. This choice only fuels Ludek’s personal crisis, a universal one even if his method is peculiar. Another crisis he stumbles upon relates to post-Totalitarian culture, and how its citizens must cope with their past.
Ludek’s never been keen on Lucie’s father, Pavel (Martin Huba), a prominent psychiatrist and resistance member to the former Czechoslovakian Communist rule. With Pavel about to receive a award for his career and work in the Velvet Revolution, Ludek has the duty of documenting his life – a project that reveals Pavel to be a participant in the secret police’s work before his dissidence and signing of “Charter 77,” a pledge against the government’s oppression. Now sleeping at his office, Ludek channels his own frustrations to the father-in-law from whom he never felt acceptance. In the process, he stumbles upon an issue so large its humbles his own.
The aim of this Czech Republic film brings to mind The Lives of Others, the 2006 German film which won the Foreign Language Oscar in 2007. Though, as Rose director Jan Hrebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky have explained, their film uses personal memories in lieu of Others‘ focus on flashback to depict the Stasi (the German secret police) in the act of secret surveillance. Rose cleverly uses its contemporary fictional narrative to depict documentary filmmaking’s process of revealing truth. Evidence pointing to Pavel’s collaboration with the STB (the Czech secret police) first appears in a recovered file, yet Ludek – as well as the filmmakers and viewers – investigate contemporary interview footage of Pavel, his wife Jana (Daniela Kolarova), and even Kafka (Ladislav Chudik), a secret police official, and Borek, an artist exiled to Sweden who looms large in the family’s past. (The title character – Japanese expat and friend to Borek – and his rose – playing on a reference to an origami pattern – are minor but hold fine thematic weight.)
When presented with evidence against her husband, Jana deems it all lies and becomes an enigma to Ludek and Radka, as Jana may be ignorant to the machinations, or just covering them up. As the truth is revealed, she becomes a principal victim to the offenses of the past growing as a present trauma. The motif is also universal, having been the repeated theme of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne in the nineteenth century, as he processed the repercussions of the Salem witch trials. Today, post-Fascist cultures have their own cross(es) to bear, and their processes of accepting and reconciling result in damages as large as those of the past.