Klára has the mundane worries of a mother and a wife. In the morning, she mocks her teenage daughter as she goes to school dressed up and painted. Immediately, with a few words, she scolds her husband for looking at his phone and doesn’t care. The following is a routine at work. The evening should have a festive character. But the celebration of 15 years of marriage turns out to be a small tragedy in the opening of the new Czech film Life for the Self-taught, which cinemas will start showing this Thursday.
At first it looks good. The husband approaches with a flower, what with the fact that his apathetic expression has not changed since morning. However, the flower becomes a lamp from work, the romance turns into an argument, and Klára, played by Jana Plodková, remains alone at the table. Not just for tonight. The husband buys a motorcycle, Klára a bicycle, and the children find themselves in a carousel of alternating care.
Director and screenwriter Jitka Rudolfová made the film based on the prose Love for the Self-taught by Barbora Šťastná. She tries to observe with perspective how a woman in her 40s who is not self-confident, but obsessed with self-doubt, loses all her previous certainties and has to reassess where to go next. The film has one great advantage: Jana Plodková and her comedic talent. Klára can be witty and ironic, she can admit to herself that she is a “cow”, and at the same time she remains the heroine of a romantic comedy that you can wish she would get her life back together.
The narrative does not need a dozen protagonists like most Czech relationship comedies, it is enough with the heroine, her mother, two offspring, three potential partners and one esoteric influencer. However, the more it becomes apparent how lazily the film, or even the original, is written.
Similar difficulties are often faced by adaptations based on the constant glossing of the protagonist and the narrator. Occasional voiceovers and internal monologues do not comment on the action in such a quantity as in the original. It hurts all the more that the introductions are not as punchy as intended. More can be forgiven in a larger cadence, unfortunately it is not enough here when every fifth joke hits.
Klára has a fairly defined personality by the standards of domestic comedies. She carries the insecurities of her youth and growing up alongside her bon vivant, unconventional mother played by Zuzana Kronerová. He can’t actively solve the problems that have arisen at the moment, but at the same time he has at least a witty comment on hand.
Jana Plodková can be witty and ironic as Klára, at the same time you can wish her to get her life together again. | Photo: Zuzana Panská
When life and her husband give her a relationship break, she solves the crisis in her own way. He buys a bike, installs a dating app. But she tends to succumb to the men around her and passively remain a victim of their whims.
He gets scolded by the janitor before class meetings, is left at the mercy of the police and paperwork while a potential partner flees in a taxi. She also allows herself to be manipulated by her boss into a strange shoot with a former model who now gives relationship and health advice to people on the Internet. This was conceived by Barbora Seidlová as the embodiment of “sunny”-looking gurus, beckoning for a shiny tinsel, behind which a slightly rusty interior is revealed.
But both the portrayal of Klara’s character and the twists and turns of the plot unfold in too short a time. An occasional sitcom, for example in the form of a date with a young man who likes to dress up as a unicorn, does not make up for the fact that the film fumbles slightly helplessly from episode to episode. We don’t really know why and to whom the husband, played by Jaroslav Plesl, has disappeared, and he solves his personal crisis by buying a motorbike, among other things.
Although it soon becomes clear that Václav Neužil as a potential partner will be another drugged-up poor man and not a prince on a white horse, in general, however, all the offered romantic lines only have the form of a kind of trick so that the film delays the transformation that the actors must go through long enough.
Sometimes Klára is the one who sarcastically mocks others, and sometimes she is a helpless little bundle who allows herself to be dragged through situations as needed, without a clear connection between those positions. That is, except for Jana Plodková’s performance, which gives the character a certain believability.
Life for self-taught people relies too much on the clichés and simple truths of romantic movies. At the same time, the viewer gets the best advice in life by chance – from an experienced pragmatic woman, not from the instructions of would-be influencers. You need to talk things out with your loved ones, or listen to them, rather than intensifying old disputes or maintaining the creaking contours of a long-term relationship.
With its ability to maintain perspective and characters that the audience does not care about, the film surpasses a significant part of the Czech romantic mainstream. Still, watching it leaves an aftertaste of how little there is. The film takes place quite far from reality. The editorial office of the lifestyle magazine, where Klára works, as well as the social and family background of the other actors, are not real environments that would shape the characters, they are just places where the story moves on.
The story can be likable because there are not only macho idiots and obnoxious hysterics. Not only is there a character of a sensitive, considerate man, but even the author and the heroine take a critical look at it. But again, it happens too hastily, almost insensitively, just to close another story arc.
And so another somewhat lame domestic film was created. This one admits to his self-confidence and can sometimes be a boost for all similarly unconfident individuals who struggle with the limits of their own personality and age. Even so, she comes up with solutions that seem to have come out of the nitty-gritty world of lifestyle articles that the heroine makes a living from writing.
A life for the self-taught
Director: Jitka Rudolfová
Bontonfilm, in cinemas from May 11.
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