Masaryk (A Prominent Patient)
From the land that produced such greats as Milos Forman, this year’s big Czech contribution to the Berlinale is the biopic Masaryk. The film tells the story of Jan Masaryk, a Czechoslovakian diplomat who amongst other appointments served as ambassador to Great Britain. Set in the aftermath of Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland, the movie chronicles Masaryk’s mental breakdown and his admittance into psychiatric care in New Jersey. He is treated by German emigré Dr Stein (Hanns Zischler) and supported by American novelist Marcia Davenport (Arly Jover), and spends his time pondering his past and his present during the grips of the Second World War.
The film opens with majestic aerial shots of a coastline and, for a moment, director Julius Ševčík establishes an epic tone, almost comparable to The Master. But from there on in, Masaryk plunges downhill. The audience endures a procession of tawdry sex, drugs and violence montages that are paraded out within the first 30 minutes, which makes it hard to suspend one’s disbelief and seems like a poor attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The film itself seems confused, torn between treating themes of impotence and hopelessness in the face of fascism and being entertaining.
Not even five minutes into the movie do we find ourselves in a poor imitation of a Baz Luhrmann set: boozy, underground jazz parties with topless dancers, we’ve seen it all so many times before. Through psychiatric sessions with Dr Stein, we witness key events of Masaryk’s life as they are retold in flashbacks. The two’s connection and chemistry does little to cover the redundant jumps in time and shallow explorations of character. The romantic interest is sprinkled on top to add a sense of complexity, with Marcia Davenport an “American” socialite played by the Spanish actress, Jover, who struggles in this one-dimensional role.
Masaryk does have its moments: the set design is rich and generous in detail. The same can be said about the cinematography, which darts between imaginative and free-roaming. Unfortunately, poor direction and a sloppy script stop this potentially interesting biopic from truly taking off. History is a mere backdrop, as the narrative spends too much time dealing with the banal and contrived story of its protagonist instead of the context in which it is happening.
Masaryk (A Prominent Patient) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Masaryk (A Prominent Patient) here: