A slow-moving, low-energy, but occasionally affecting family drama-cum-road movie, Robert Sedláček’s Rodina je základ státu (onscreen English title: Long Live the Family, but more accurately translated as Family is the Foundation of the State) was nominated for six Czech Lions this year but was ultimately shut out of the main categories at last month’s award ceremony (it did, however, win something akin to a “Critic’s Choice” award).
Well-made by writer-director Sedláček and a talented cast & crew, the film features an intriguing premise and some welcome comedic elements, and it works best during the thriller-lite sequences, which are handled with the perfect touch of irony.
But it also bites off more than it can chew by asking the audience to identify with and care for its lead character, a corporate criminal who has embezzled some 15 million Czech crowns.
That protagonist is Libor Pokorný (played by Sedláček regular Igor Chmela), a disgraced ex-bank executive who opens the film in the midst of interrogation by police detectives (real-life husband-and-wife Martin Finger (Pouta) and Monika A. Fingerová).
The detectives want him to rat on his superiors, who are already on their way to prison in a multi-billion crown embezzlement case. But Pokorný won’t say a word without his attorney.
The end is near; in what may be his final days away from prison, Libor returns home to his family, wife Iva (Eva Vrbková) and children Lukáš (Albert Mikšík) and Tína (Kristýna Tomíčková), who have little idea of Libor’s corporate troubles. He gets drunk the first night, but has an epiphany during breakfast: road trip! And just in time, before the family’s house is raided by police.
It’s a compelling premise; but unlike, say, Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (which followed a fugitive family on the run for years), there’s nowhere for Rodina je základ státu to go: Tína has a medical condition, and Libor won’t risk taking the family on the lam. Instead, he seems to have accepted his fate (a few years in prison) and just wants to spend a few last days with his family.
This lends a kind of meandering air to the film, and much of the midsection is filled with stagnant drama. Pokorný seems like a decent-enough guy, and a well-intentioned husband and father, but he’s never able to really win our sympathy; cinema has been able to get audiences to identify with murderers, thieves, gangsters, and other criminals, but a corporate fraudster – especially in this economic climate – is a difficult pill to swallow.
We do, however, have someone to root for in Iva, whom Libor has kept in the dark; her climactic actions are particularly affecting, and Vrbková hits just the right notes.
Intermittently throughout, and especially during the climax, the film comes to life during sequences of police threat. Simona Babčáková and Jiří Vyorálek offer solid support as old friends the family coincidentally runs into.
I’ve liked what I’ve previously seen from director Sedláček in the intense rehab thriller Pravidla lži and the faux-documentary comedy Největší z Čechů; in these films and now Rodina je základ státu, he’s moved effortlessly between diverse genres. I didn’t really connect with his latest film, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the director comes up with next.