Reviewed by: Chris

A full coffin shown on an airport x-ray machine. The historic beauty of Prague. A lawyer who offers his services at no cost, no strings. The handbag of a wealthy woman and its contents thrown to a crowd in a market square.

When we take elements out of context, we could make an infinite number of stories out them. Tragedy, comedy, romance. When we look at a relationship, we maybe select the details that fit a particular keyhole view. Movies generally simplify even further. To Ole Christian Madsen's credit, he at least tries to remind us that reality is rarely as simple.

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Christoffer (Mads Mikkelsen - the bad guy from Casino Royale) is taking his wife Maja to Prague. Perhaps he hopes that a weekend in this romantic city will be good for them, but the underlying purpose is that his father has died there and he needs to sign some papers before the body can be brought back to Denmark. Dry humour is mixed with sadness due to language difficulties. Maja asks the hotel for an adaptor plug and they send an iron (with polite reassurances).

Miscommunication is also reflected in their relationship. They seem to get on well, but then Christoffer confronts his wife with evidence of her unfaithfulness, at the same time saying he forgives he and wants to make their fourteen-year marriage work. She doesn't think she is the one who needs to be forgiven. Christoffer's father has left him an audiocassette. They don't have a tape player and have to go to a jazz bar to hear it. Nothing is what it seems, and the situation unravels before us in a constantly unpredictable way.

Prag dissects the pain of separation, not with the shouting and screaming of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, but with the equally cutting knife of toleration and flawed understanding. As Christoffer comes to terms with possibility of life without Maja, he explores the question of identity and also the sense of 'knowing' another person. How do you define someone? Their job? Their likes? Their relationship(s)? Are we the result of the things that have happened to us or the sum of the kindness we show to others? With the analytic attitude typical of his profession as a lawyer, Christoffer tries to delineate who he is to Maja but she won't play the same game - at least verbally.

Fourteen years of feelings are not thrown away so easily when there is goodwill present, even in the face of what might be irrevocable breakdown. When Christoffer meets his father's ex-housekeeper, Alena, he sees some warmth and human goodness uncomplicated by the vagaries of language. At one point, we see the two of them in silhouette, feelings beautifully portrayed and uncoloured by words.

With the various languages in subtitles, we are privy to more information than any of the characters. "We're always ashamed and never good enough for the world," says Alena (in Czech). A lesson that Danish Christoffer cannot fathom.

With the Czech lawyer (tidying up Dad's affairs for nothing), there is some stumbling conversation - they have enough words between them for halting conversation. "Life is hard," he tells Christoffer. "You bend it or you break."

Prag has a more 'European' feel than much of Danish cinema. It lingers on detail, encourages the viewer to consider subtleties. Intellectually, it touches on areas of breakdowns in communication as did the more ambitious Babel, but it does so with a gentle warmth and hope in the face of adversity. For all its sadness of theme, Prag is a strangely beautiful and moving film.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2007
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A couple travel to Prague to bring back the husband's deceased father, only to find their marriage in trouble.
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Director: Ole Christian Madsen

Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson, Ole Christian Madsen

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Borivoj Navrátil, Jana Plodková, Josef Vajnar

Year: 2006

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Denmark


Glasgow 2007

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