Review of the film If I’d rather burn

You can also listen to the review in audio version.

The countryside has a changing role in domestic cinematography, but in one way or another it plays our pretty Czech idyll. In the 1950s, the Communists introduced various variations on Stroupežnický. In the 1960s, on the other hand, the new wave found an earthy reality, self-growth and a manifestation of various moral problems, which the whole of Czech society suffers from.

In the times of normalization, it was mainly Jiří Menzel’s films that discovered a new harmony in the village’s “earth paradise”, a place of safe escape, which has its ideological and social problems, but humor blooms here, beer is good here and girls are the most beautiful. In short, reality is better tolerated here.

In the years following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Czech film was indecisively maneuvered between Menzel’s humanism, careful exaggeration and utter sexlessness. The slush wine kitsch of the Berry trilogy alternated here, satirical pastimes such as Signal and a breath of freshness brought here a naïve theme of escapes from the city and digital nomadism played by Tomáš Vorl and his melancholic Journey from the City.

In the era of fake news and various hoaxes, the trenches between generations and between the town and the village have been deepening in recent years, but Czech film is characteristically treadfully cautiously. Robert Sedláček returned at least a piece of authenticity to the village and the village people. Thanks to Jan Prušinovský’s films and series, there is a necessary reflection on important social issues, in which exaggeration and realism intertwine.

Traces of idyll survive, but it can no longer be overlooked that the countryside is overgrown with smallness, fear of the other and various stereotypes. After all, Tomáš Vorel, a “Prague apostate” who is moving from the initial enchantment of The Road from the City to the much more sober and less naive of its two sequels, is moving in a similar direction.

It’s not burning anymore, my doll

The first graduate of FAMU graduate Adam Koloman Rybanský seduces the “return to a new wave” to a somewhat cheap obezlička. Yes, if it would rather burn, it works with the fire brigade theme and is framed by “festive merriment” similar to Forman’s cult film Burning, My Doll. Instead of a ball, it is Easter this time, but men in uniform play a similarly key role as organizers and bearers of the order. Otherwise, however, it is a very lame parallel.

Miloš Forman and his team worked with a purely realistic key, partly improvising non-actors and naturally meandering situations. Rybanský’s film is much more tight-edged, he carefully builds his gags, he shows more pronounced stylizations, whether it’s working with actors, or framing the camera or lighting the scene. The unnamed village thus acts as a slightly symbolic framework in which the director and co-writer puts their self-grown characters.

The central fire brigade duo is disparate. The elderly fresh widower Broňa is the commander and natural authority. Frowning, hoarse, inwardly angry and desperate for loneliness, he seeks a new meaning in life. He partially supplies him with Standa, a stocky and benevolent jouda who looks to Broň as lacking his father’s authority. Four days of Easter and a mysterious event will become the catalyst for their relationship, during which a van will enter the middle of a village gathering and enter the fountain.

An event that may have a completely banal explanation ignites a fire of hatred in a frustrated Broň. He sees in this the work of Arab terrorists and at the same time the beginning of a sacred mission, the aim of which is to protect its village from the impending apocalypse. As it soon turns out, a small community is like a dry field waiting for a spark. Fear and prejudice need someone trustworthy to guide them. The man is worshiped by Broňa, apparently inspired by the first Czech terrorist Jaromír Balda. He also decides to stage terror to wake everyone around.

In If It Would Rather Burn, the principles of a loving village idyll meet with a realistic tragicomedy about blindness and fear of the unknown. It cannot be said that this is a completely harmonious coexistence. On the one hand, there are figurines, an idealistic young pastor, a local kind-hearted drunk, a firefighter with an absurd bald spot, who puts vinegar on himself to protect himself from chemtrails. , which sometimes grows from such understandable roots as the unprocessed grief of losing a close being.

Laugh but don’t laugh

The debutant Rybanský is not moving sovereignly in this difficult territory on the border of laughter and freezing. Despite his undeniable poetics and creative courage, he would rather radiate a striking spasm with which he tries to hold different positions together. This is well visible in the dysfunctional connection of actors and non-actors in some scenes. Gags, often built from static shots, tend to be cumbersome, while the slow, clumsy characters of firefighters seem to get lost between a caricature and a realistic depiction of seemingly good people who are able to lie and manipulate in an extreme situation.

The final twists of the film lack a bit of depth, although they certainly do not lack courage. It is difficult to decide in places when the viewer would prefer to have amused indulgence over some situations that are satirically exaggerated, and when a very serious view is appropriate, because the film suddenly touches on tragic issues. Jiří Havelka’s “Communal Comedies” (Owners, Extraordinary Event) also suffer from a similar syndrome, but they definitely surpass Rybanský’s directorial debut.

Fortunately, if it burns, it will not be carried away by the Klusák Daliborek syndrome, ie the superior sneer of human limitations. On the contrary, the film maintains empathetic closeness and does not use its characters as an easy material for elevated ridicule. His style has a restraint and sobriety that keeps him at a safe distance from the idyll and the blunt roaring over “those stupid stormers.” It is definitely nice to see the work of filmmakers who, on the one hand, have taken up the current topic and at the same time think about it in the current film language, with thoughtful shots, an ironic but not grim choice of musical accompaniment.

Another advantage is the choice of a partner for Miroslav Krobot, who already has a patent for the old-fashioned frowning villagers for life and is already playing them in the economy mode. Michal Isteník is still an unseen actor, who portrayed Stand with tenderness and in fact believable naivety, as a notorious good man, who can be misled by the effort to thank everyone around him, especially the authority of his surrogate father. His interaction with his rational and cruelly honest wife (surprisingly excellent Anna Polívková) is one of the film’s best moments.

If he prefers to burn, he will have a difficult position with a conservative domestic audience due to his more ambitious approach, but he already has his small victory in the pocket of his firefighting suit. The selection for the prestigious Panorama section at the Berlinale shows that it makes sense for young creators not to give up their ambitions and tell about the present without pleasing filters. Let’s hope that similar debuts will increase, and the Czech film will finally bury a long-dead idyll six feet underground.

If it would rather burn (director: Adam Koloman Rybanský, starring: Michal Isteník, Miroslav Krobot, Anna Polívková and others, in cinemas from 16 June 2022)

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