By Don Simpson | January 16, 2012
Director: Marek Najbrt
Writers: Marek Najbrt, Robert Geisler, Benjamin Tucek
Starring: Jana Plodková, Marek Daniel, Jiri Ornest, Tomás Mechácek, Matthias Brandt, Klára Melísková, Martin Mysicka, Sandra Nováková, Josef Polásek
If you have never thought of a film’s soundtrack as a metronome for the visuals, take a gander at Czech writer-director Marek Najbrt’s Protektor. Highly graphic, Postmodern visuals are carefully synchronized with Petr Marek’s pulsing score, allowing the music to function as the beating heart of the film. It is probably not without purpose that the pulsing rhythm of Protektor‘s editing is reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. Repetition is also important in Najbrt’s cinematic universe, such as the recurring motif of bicyclists pedaling desperately toward the camera. Najbrt’s knack for unique stylization is also apparent in the bleached color and black-and-white lensing by cinematographer Miloslav Holman.
A brief prelude in 1942 Prague immediately deceives us into thinking Protektor is something that it is not. Najbrt then proceeds to integrate a menagerie of sub-plots to complicate what could have been a very simple story. Najbrt’s narrative approach craves a very perceptive audience; blink and you might get lost.
The narrative begins in 1938 as a low-ranked radio announcer, Emil (Marek Daniel), reports on Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia; meanwhile, Emil’s wife Hana (Jana Plodková) thrives as a successful movie star. Of the Prague couple, Hana is significantly more famous, much to Emil’s dismay. Once Hana’s most recent film is banned by the Nazis, the balance of their marriage changes drastically.
Hana is revealed to us to be Jewish when her Jewish co-star Fantl (Jiri Ornest) warns her to leave Czechoslovakia as soon as possible — he even provides her with a Swiss visa. Hana is naive and stubborn, so she does not truly understand her fate if she remains in Prague; besides, she wants to remain with Emil. (Emil’s ethnicity is never discussed, but he is definitely not Jewish.) Emil’s jealousy and possessiveness blinds him from Hana’s impending danger as well.
Emil rapidly ascends the ranks of the Prague radio station as his colleagues continue to run afoul of the Nazi authorities. He (specifically, his voice) soon reaches super-stardom with his program “Voices of Our Home,” earning the respect of his German bosses. But Emil never becomes a collaborator in the Nazi agenda; instead, he is portrayed as an innocent employee who just so happens to have a golden voice. Emil attempts to use his newly found popularity and relationship with the Nazis to protect Hana.
In the meantime, Hana flounders around their flat, unemployable and unable to safely venture outside. But Hana quickly grows bored and restless, so she starts sneaking out of the flat to enjoy the comfort of a nearby movie theater. Soon, Hana develops a flirtatious friendship with the theater’s young projectionist, Petr (Tomás Mechácek).
By the end of Protektor, we are left wondering if Najbrt has discovered a novel take on the Jewish plight during World War II or if he is merely adding style to the oft-repeated story. While Protektor is unique in its strong visual approach to the subject matter, I am not sure we need yet another retelling of this narrative. Its been 70 years or so, and it still seems as though every year brings us yet another story about the horrendous mistreatment of the Jews during World War II. I am not attempting to diminish the torment of the Jews during World War II, but I am just saying that the story is becoming repetitive and tiresome. We should never forget about the horrors of the Nazi agenda, but that does not mean we need at least one film about it every year.
Winner of the 2010 Czech Lion for Best Film, Best Actress (Jana Plodková), Best Director (Marek Najbrt), Best Screenplay (Benjamin Tucek, Marek Najbrt, Robert Geisler), Best Editing (Pavel Hrdlicka) and Best Music (Petr Marek), Protektor was released in the United States on DVD by Film Movement in January 2012.