DVD Review: Občanský průkaz

Quintessential communist-era nostalgia
Občanský průkaz
Rating:

Directed by Ondřej Trojan. Starring Libor Kovář, Matouš Vrba, Jan Vlček, Jakub Šárka, Aňa Geislerová, Martin Myšička, Marek Taclík, Kristýna Boková-Lišková, Magdaléna Sidonová, Jana Šulcová, Jaromír Dulava, Jiří Macháček, Václav Kopta, Oldřich Vlach, Jan Vaši, Matej Landl, Jenovéfa Boková, Marina Vyskvorkina, Lukáš Latinák, Jana Kepková, Nella Miščíková. Written by Petr Sabach.



A quintessential piece of communist-era nostalgia, Ondřej Trojan´s Občanský průkaz (Identity Card) made a big splash with critics and audiences when it opened locally last fall, garnering almost unanimously positive reviews and raking in 40+ million CZK at the box office.

A well-deserved reception. Trojan´s film, from a script by frequent Jan Hřebejk collaborator Petr Jarchovský, working from Petr Šabach´s novel by the same name, is a loving look back at an era not often lovingly looked back upon, destined to please viewers who lived through the time themselves or lived it through their parents. For outsiders looking for insight into the Czech psyche, this is must-see stuff.

Set in the mid-1970s, Občanský průkaz centers on a quartet of teenagers struggling with adolescent disobedience in the face of a strict communist regime. There´s Venca (Matouš Vrba), nicknamed “Popelka” (“Cinderella”), the long-haired leader of the group; Míta (Jan Vlček), aka “Genius,” who lives in the slums after his wealthy parents emigrated and left him behind; Aleš (Jakub Šárka), the warm-hearted “Poet”; and Petr (Libor Kovář), “Frog”, our less-than-fully-defined narrator.

We follow this group of friends through about four years, as they grow from 15-year-olds receiving a Soviet-issued identity card, through high school and towards an uncertain future. Roughly, the film is a series of vignettes that leaves no communist-era stone unturned, from snitches and bureaucracy to border patrol, extended queues, and imported goods (including 70s rock´n´roll).

Also featured are Petr´s parents, played by Aňa Geislerová and Martin Myšička (both excellent); the boys´ teacher (Kristýna Boková-Lišková), who tries to do the right thing but becomes a victim of bureaucracy; and a police official (Václav Kopta) and his son (Jakub Janoš) who are initially antagonistic but ultimately trapped in the same no-win system.

But this isn´t the soul-crushing view of Soviet oppression we´re used to (and indeed, was found in Radim Špaček´s excellent Pouta, which was set during the same timeframe); instead, this is lighthearted comedy-drama, a nostalgic look back (it may not have been the best of times, but it was our time).

One gripe: due to the episodic nature of the film, that final half hour tends to drag; Also: there´s an overreliance on Petr´s narration, and the film frequently tells us things that it should be showing us instead.

Making up for the faults is a gorgeous production design that faithfully recreates the era, alongside excellent Martin Štrba cinematography. Even when the plot lags, Občanský průkaz is a beautiful film to look at.

But best of all is the soundtrack, with original music by Petr Ostrouchov and a variety of period hits, local and foreign; most notable is Bob Dylan´s Most of the Time, used as an infrequent anthem. My favorite: Dobré ráno blues, by Luboš Beňa & Matěj Ptaszek, who also appear in the film.

Image Quality: 7/10

When the DVD is loaded, what appears to be a 4th-generation VHS dub of an SMV Enterprises logo kicks off over a minute of unskippable partner logos.

The film itself fares much better: colors are wonderfully reproduced and detail is typically sharp, perhaps too sharp; grain appears to have been suppressed here through digital noise reduction. The picture is sometimes inconsistent, with mild black crush during night scenes and an occasional hazy texture during others. The 1.85:1 image is slightly letterboxed inside a 16:9 frame.

Despite its ribald box office success, Občanský průkaz is not currently available on blu-ray.

Sound Quality: 8/10

Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo are offered, along with subtitles in English and Czech for the hearing impaired.

No complaints with the 5.1 sound, which is nicely reproduced though mostly front-and-center, with little action through the rear speakers.

Bonus Features: 7/10

Sony BMG´s region-free PAL DVD comes as a 2-disc digipack, with the film on disc one and a mild assortment of bonus features on disc 2, which include:

  • Film About Film (14:07), a short making-of doc.
  • Samples, brief clips from the film including Yurt (0:33), Oschibka (0:18), Hand (0:42), and Shod and Clothed (4:08), the band sequence that plays over the closing credits.
  • Scrab Scenes, deleted scenes Tractor (1:45) and Nettles (1:08).
  • Cut for Stuff (19:18), a montage of clips from the film and behind the scenes footage.
  • Trailers, which include 40”, 30”, 20” and 10” TV spots along with the official trailer (2:31) and trailers prepared by the director (3:05), editor (2:18), and Jaroslav Fuit (1:45). I´m not sure what Fuit´s involvement in the film was, but I prefer his trailer, which plays out against Dylan´s Most of the Time, over the others.
  • Trailers for other Czech films, including Horem pádem, Želary, El Paso, U mě dobrý, Pelíšky, Pupendo, Medvídek, Cesta z města, Musíme si pomáhat, and Kráska v nesnázích.
  • And finally, English-language text bios for director Ondřej Trojan, writers Petr Jarchovský and Petr Šabach, cinematographer Martin Štrba, costume designer Katarína Bieliková, and co-star Aňa Geislerová. For non-Czech speakers, this is the only English-friendly supplement.

In all, a decent assortment of extras that probably don´t deserve their own disc; I´d rather have the soundtrack CD.

Overall:

Good-to-great film, solid DVD package. Highly recommended.

Screengrabs (click to view full resolution):

Trailer:


Also read:  New Czech movie The Prague Orgy shows Philip Roth’s vision of 1970s Czechoslovakia

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