by Jeff Meyers
In case you haven't yet heard, men are pigs. Even in the Czech Republic.
Case in point: TV weatherman Oskar (Jirí Machácek), who one morning wakes up and notices that his wife Zuzana (Simona Babcáková) has a helluva big schnoz. And so he leaves her, in search of ... well, it's not quite clear what Oskar's looking for. His midlife leap of faith mostly ends up eroding what little life he had. After losing his cushy job, he takes one transporting people too drunk to drive home. For most people, the fall would be too much, but Oskar seems oddly content. Less successful is his affair with the hot teenage babysitter (Eva Kerekésová) who broke up his marriage, and who seems to have more affection for her pet turtle than him (until he accidentally kills it). This sends him into the arms of Nora (Emilia Vasaryova), a popular but aging chanteuse who only ends up dumping him too. And still Oskar soldiers on, never showing an ounce of regret for his choices. Meanwhile, his parents act as his ex-wife's wingmen, helping her to get it on with the blue-collar divorced man who's been courting her. As Zuzana's love blossoms, Oskar's soulless promiscuity leads only to numb loneliness. By the end of the film, he's in a bathtub with a former student-turned-professional escort, being interviewed on the radio by his ex (she's a radio host) about his failed romance with Nora. No matter how far down the spiral goes, Oskar is unfazed.
Ah, leave it to the Czechs to turn French culture — this time the middle-aged sex comedy — on its head. This latest film from director Jan Hrebejk (Beauty in Trouble) is a drolly unromantic comedy with the kind of downbeat vibe Hollywood avoids like the plague. In fact, American audiences may struggle to groove to the film's offbeat, loping rhythm.
Episodic and relentlessly underplayed, Shameless isn't particularly profound or revolutionary, but there are enough clever observations, moments of black humor and melancholic touches to make it all work. And whenever the narrative seems to lose its way, Hrebejk throws in a visual joke, thematic cue or stylish flourish to remind you that he knows exactly where things are going, even if you don't.
The best moment comes early in the film, as Oskar wakes to observe the shadow of his sleeping wife's nose on the bedroom wall. It's simultaneously comical and sad, a cutting metaphor for the marriage we will soon see implode. And lucky for Hrebejk, the talented cast is up to the task, creating nuanced characters in what could've otherwise been an exercise in flat affect. In particular, Machacek, despite all odds, remains engaging as the wide-eyed lout who who refuses to grow up.
Hrebejk, who is one of the most successful directors in the Czech Republic, keeps things short (88 minutes), quietly sentimental and appropriately sour. It's Jim Jarmusch meets Paul Mazursky. And though Shameless could use a bit more bite, its low-key charm comes from its jaded delight in Oskar's clueless and half-hearted quest to add more women to his life, never once helping him to feel any less alone.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb 26- 27, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28. It also shows at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 5-6, and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 7. Call 313-833-3237.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.