Bear With Us

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Bear With Us
"Despite the family fall outs and relationship fallout, these characters are winningly human." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Tomás Pavlícek's fractious family comedy may have distinctive Czech features - not least its rustic cottage setting - but its humour will be familiar to anyone who has ever experienced a family gathering or holiday that's gone slightly off the rails. Pavlícek and his co-writer Lucie Boksteflová seem wise to the possibilities with the punning English title Bear With Us (the original Czech name translates simply as Cottage For Sale).

The cottage in question belongs to a middle-aged married couple (Ivana Chýlková and David Vávra), but on the day of signing it over to its new owners, she gets cold feet. In an indication of the deadpan comedy that runs through the film, the husband tells the buyer: "My wife is crying", only to receive the reply, "Why don't we wait till she stops?"

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With the sale postponed, the mother determines to gather her whole clan at the property for one last weekend. That means persuading her own battle-axe of a mum (Jana Synková) to come along with her dad (Jan Kacer), who is little more than a silent shadow of his former self thanks to Alzheimer's. If that wasn't enough, she also convinces her son (Jan Strejcovský) and his Slovak girlfriend (Judit Bárdos), and her daughter (Tereza Voríšková) and her German boyfriend (Michael Pitthan) to attend in various states of reluctance.

From the moment the family members are introduced, fun is on the horizon and once they get into two cars to head to the cottage, Pavlícek puts his foot down. He has plenty of fun with traditional family humour, such as gran wanting them all to eat every five minutes, but also finds time to skewer European cultural politics and attitudes. British audiences will find the fact that the German becomes the butt of many of the jokes particularly familiar. "Is this Czech humour," the German asks his girlfriend. "No, it's humour," responds.

The shifting generational attitudes to 'foreigners' will surely strike a Brexit chord, but the emphasis here is on enjoyment not posturing and Pavlícek offers an even-handed approach, showing how prejudice cuts in all directions.

The film has a fine sense of absurdity - not least when one character spends a considerable chunk of the runtime wearing a bear costume for no particular reason - but also tons of charm. Despite the family fall outs and relationship fallout, these characters are winningly human and though Pavlícek and Boksteflová find bittersweet resolutions, they avoid stodgy sentimentalism. The sort of film that could easily be targeted for an English language remake, I recommend you grin and bear with the original.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2018
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A family has decided to sell their lovely cottage as none of them has visited it for some time. Yet it holds so many nostalgic memories that the mother suggests they all spend one last day there before the sale takes place.


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