Written by Mary Frances Hickey
Its Czech TV Debut
This light-hearted satire of expat life in Prague, “the Left Bank of the 90s” will appear on Czech TV 2 on Tuesday, March 20th at 22.50 and again on Thursday, March 22nd at 0:40. The mock documentary, introduced by the late Alan Levy, who provides funny commentary and clarification, follows 4 prototypical Americans who heeded Levy´s siren call and came to the “Left Bank of the 90s.” They were searchers, as the founder of the Prague Post notes, seekers, as well as wheeler dealers, entrepreneurs, and deal makers. And lots of self-important artists who came to initiate and spur along an artistic wave.
The DVD, which has won praised from Variety as a “sociopolitical laffer” follows the pretty pretentious 4 from the first giddy days when the Velvet Revolution brought down the old socialist order to the less idealistic, more settled present day. The story follows an arc of emotions familiar to most expats: a honeymoon, bliss and surprise at the loveliness and comforts of the city. Then comes a winter of disillusionment, a time of rejection, then reconciliation and acceptance. All this involves high adventure, harebrained schemes and rueful awakenings. And excuses. The wicked glee comes from recognizing silly types, patronizing Czechs. They are cheerfully unaware of how flat footed they are in the delicate dance of cultures. Few things are as delicious as Lucy, a ‘business consultant” who initiates “Czech Business With an American Face” (CBAF) leading a training seminar with the motivational slogan: “Yes, you can change.” Determined to bring customer-friendly service to Prague, she has bewildered Czech trainees clap and chant, clap and chant” I can do it! Yes I can!” To transform a dumpy restaurant into a “fun, swashbuckling, sea chanty themed-based dining experience,” she has a hulking, gloomy guy dress up like a pirate and intones, “My name if Radek and I will be your waiter.” He manages a terrifying grimace. Tom, a poet and playwright, writes all the time, usually on the backs of beer coasters.
This is well into the afternoon, when he wakes up and at intervals when he isn´t picking up Czech women. His self-indulgent play is staged by Ewell who recruits Czech actors, telling them she realizes how they will “leap at the chance to work with Americans after all the years of having freedom stifled by fascists, Russians and Communists.” Likewise, Ian enthusiastically describes the respect and affection Bohemians have for his performance art and happily mimes to crowds in the Old Town Square.
“Well, it seems that everybody hates a mime,” notes the producer, Jeffrey Brown, one of a talent crew who made the spoof as a “labor of love.” Crushed by increasing hostility to his physical art, Ian evolves into a Promised One, a Deliverer who can finally get the gang out of Prague and home. The release is tough since it stems from the Franz Kafka warning that Prague is an old crone who will not let go. An English academic explains that expats really, truly believe that they cannot get out of Prague.
But they need to. Lucy´s business sinks into money laundering and louche dealings, and she skulks around hiding from police in toilets. Ewell has to earn money with porn voiceovers, supporting an angry feminist, all-girl rock band who thrashes Czech males for being to male. Tom´s hair falls out, and he peddles his poems and his literary vision on the street. Escape revolves around a “Farewell Defenestration.” A few years later, the crew has returned, each having worked out their own kind of “normalization” with Prague.
From the poignant images of the city just before and after the 1989 Revolution and the joy of the Praguers and expats in the early 1990s with flowers, guitars and dancing in the streets to the less whimsical present, the film is beautiful to look at, and the camera gives us both a pretty and a dark place. “We are making fun of ourselves,” says Brown, “mocking all the pretentiousness.” The Czechs come in for send-ups, and Levy´s sharp insights into the love-hate relationship between expats and Prague are sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes straight. In the end, “Rexpatriates” turns into a big wet kiss for the Old Crone.
The DVD “Rexpatriates” can be purchased at www.rexpatriates.com and at the following bookstores: The Globe, Anagram, Big Ben, Video to Go and Shakespeare and Sons.