Susanne Bier’s Brothers told the story of its titular siblings and the shift in family dynamics when one of them is sent to fight in Afghanistan. The film was hugely popular in both its native Denmark and abroad, and led to a 2009 US remake directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Všiváci (translated as Lousy Bastards), the new Czech film from debut writer and director Roman Kašparovský, skirts around the premise of Brothers so openly in its opening minutes that I wondered if it was an unofficial remake: Miki Rohan (Jiří Langmajer) is leading an unhappy life as an alcoholic doctor in Prague, while estranged brother Ricky (Ondřej Vetchý) goes to fight in the War in Afghanistan, leaving his wife and two daughters at home.
The setup is almost identical: we draw the parallel and expect Ricky to go Missing in Action and Miki to take over his role as father and husband. But something strange happened while I was waiting for the plot to develop: not only doesn’t the storyline from Bier’s Brothers develop, no storyline develops at all. Ricky returns from Afghanistan to raise his daughters – his wife, not seen or heard from during the film, has left him and the children during the war – while Miki continues his shitheel existence in the city.
And that’s pretty much all there is here. It’s almost as if director Kašparovský has stripped all the surface elements from Bier’s film, but left out the story. There is bad blood between the two brothers – whose past is detailed in two sets of flashbacks, one involving their father and the other involving another woman (played by Andrea Kerestešová) they fight over – but the characters, as played by Langmajer and Vetchý, barely interact, or even exert a tangible effect on the other’s life throughout the course of the film.
Instead, Ricky does the day-to-day grind in Havlíčkův Brod, struggling to pay the bills (he now works as a stagehand) while taking care of his two daughters (including the college-age Rosy, played by Tereza Voříšková, who has just been accepted into acting school) and mother (Iva Janžurová). His army friend Olda (Ondřej Malý) devises some kind of barely-thought-out revenge plan against Miki, but no… no. That would involve some storytelling.
Miki, meanwhile, drinks, smokes, and screws around in Prague. He performs brain surgery while so hungover he has to be rolled into the hospital on a wheelchair, and sleeps with the wife (Tatiana Vilhelmová) of his colleague and friend (Marek Taclík). I think he’s supposed to be the hero here. Go figure.
With nothing going on between the brothers, it’s up to the supporting characters to deliver some story. That’s where lowlife drug dealer Eman (Kryštof Hádek) and his mentally handicapped buddy Venca (Jiří Mádl) come in to play. Associates of Olda, they set out to steal Miki’s pet rabbit, for reasons I will spare myself the effort of attempting to explain.
You might recall Robert Downey Jr.’s advice about going “full retard” in Tropic Thunder. Well, Mádl – one of the most popular and recognizable Czech actors of his generation – goes there. Quality aside, his performance dominates the film, and is one of the few reasons to be watching Všiváci. Take, for instance, the sequence where Venca – who has a crippling fear of buttons – is about to rape Rosy, but halts in fear when he gets to her buttoned panties. Imagine the thought process that must have been going through Mádl’s mind when performing this scene.
During scenes like that, I also tried to understand what writer-director Kašparovský was trying to convey. Were Všiváci simply incompetently written and assembled, it might be worth watching for unintentional comedy value; unfortunately, the director also displays a crude misogynistic streak.
Noteworthy scenes include those between Miki and a nurse who he humiliates (by seducing, covering her nude body with whipped cream, and ushering in colleagues with a birthday cake), and a climactic sequence with Voříšková, who’s Rosy is sent running down a city street naked, bare ass flapping in the wind, after a sleazy threesome goes horribly wrong.
The debut writer and director has unquestionably culled together an impressive crew here. The cast is a who’s-who of the contemporary Czech film scene: Langmajer and Vetchý are two of the local industry’s biggest draws, and are supported by the rising star Mádl, Hádek (Czech Lion Best Actor winner for 3 Seasons in Hell), Malý (Lion winner for Pouta), Janžurová (2-time Best Actress Lion winner), Vilhelmová (Lion winner for Štěstí), and the others. The cinematography is by Vladimír Smutný (Kolja, Poupata), who has won six Lions.
What attracted them all to this project is a mystery. Všiváci was shot in early 2012, and originally scheduled for release in January 2013; a year and a half later, it has finally snuck into local cinemas (and underperformed at the box office). I can’t say it was worth the wait.