Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 17
19 January 1999

Jan Sverak's Jizda (The Ride, 1994) K I N O E Y E:
The perils and the romance

Part II, The romance
Jan Sverak's Jizda

Andrew J Horton

To read Hitchhiking: The perils and the romance Part I
first, click here.

Whilst Pasti, pasti, pasticky is hardly likely to persuade anyone of the joys of thumbing for lifts, Jizda (The Ride, 1994) by Jan Sverak (of Kolja fame) is a far more relaxed and romantic picture of hitching a ride. For those of you who were charmed by Sverak's Oscar-winning tale of an abandoned Russian child, this quintessentially Czech road movie is a must-see. UK audiences will be able to benefit from the showings the film is currently getting as part of the Czech Film Season - which is currently touring the UK - organised by the London-based Czech Centre.

Radek and Franta, unable to buy the dream-car they want for their planned motoring vacation, buy a dodgy old banger, cut the roof off it, and armed with French licence plates set off to cruise the South Bohemian countryside by the back lanes. Not long into their holiday, they pick up an attractive but dopey young redhead, Ana.

With her distant child-like air and her unselfconscious sense of fun, the two are happy to persuade her to come along, with the idea of an easy lay not too far from at least one of their minds. Not, however, if her possessive and perhaps even dangerous on-and-off partner gets her back first.

Easy rider

Sverak captures the atmosphere of a hot lazy summer perfectly and brings a truly spontaneous touch the trios antics: deliberately crashing the car, stealing ice-creams and breaking into a holiday home. The plot does not seem to press, but Sverak holds you just enough with the sexual tension between Ana and the boys and the dramatic tension with her ever approaching boyfriend. As it happens, in the end, Sverak manages to pull out a definite end to this tale, although you might not particularly feel that you are being led anywhere as the story unravels itself in its unhurried way.

For Czechs, there is the delight of the classic soundtrack by Buty to sing along to (as indeed some nostalgic emigres did at the first performance of the film as part of the Season at the Riverside Studios. Buty are a peculiarly Czech phenomenon and their mix of easy-listening music and off-beat lyrics may take some getting used to for British audiences, but the effort is worth it.

Sverak is not my favourite director and Kolja (Kolya, 1996) is a film I find to be quite staggeringly mediocre. That's by the by here. Jizda has an appeal even for hardened cynics, such as myself, who found Kolja to be much too much of a wash-out. Its carefree spirit is mightily contagious and you can almost feel the breeze blowing back your hair as you watch the rolling hills and medieval towns (such as Cesky Krumlov) fly past on the screen.

Morality-free zone

What is interesting about Jizda is that it is an idyllic depiction of a holiday from morality. Radek and Franta pack up the normal rules of everyday life and leave them behind: driving a stolen car with false plates, stealing to stay alive and chasing a girl barely over the age of consent. Breaking the conventions of everyday life, is of course the charm of this, and indeed any, road movie. Perhaps, though, we should not be surprised that this distinctly American genre should be interpreted so well in a Czech context (predictably the Czech phrase for road movie is identical to the English one).

The Central European idea of what democracy is can verge on the overly-romantic. I myself can think of several people who were unable to distinguish the difference between democracy and everyone doing whatever they like. For many, the early post-revolution days were also a holiday from morality as the values of a previous generation, including the good ones, were rejected en masse, thereby giving Vaclav Havel much material to reproach his Republic for in the coming years. Open racism, violence and crime have rocketed to unprecedented levels and even the normally sordid English press had to show surprise at the Czech Republic's innovation of topless weather girls on television.

I can't help wondering if such developments are signs that this romanticism over freedom is sobering up slower than we expected it would. Of course, such theories are ultimately unquantifiable in any meaningful way. However, fiction like Jizda is an interesting qualitative indicator of a region's post-1989 view of morality.

Andrew J Horton, 19 January 1999



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