Movie Review: 'Green Horse Rustlers' (Zloději zelených koní)
A down-and-out family man and a struggling academic go diggin’ for gold in the new Czech feature Green Horse Rustlers (Zloději zelených koní), now playing in select Prague cinemas with English subtitles.
But instead of searching in vain for gold in the Czech Republic, the pair are after moldavite (vltavín in Czech): a glassy green mineral formation thought to have come to Earth via a meteorite impact in neighboring Germany, or perhaps even from the moon.
The rare (and valuable) mineral is almost exclusively found in South Bohemia; nearly all of the world’s moldavite yields come from the area, with a low percentage found in nearby Moravia.
Academic and moldavite fan Pavel (Marek Adamczyk), who teaches in Prague a few times a week, has a passion for the mineral that keeps him up at night as he admires his brightly-lit display case full of the rock. He’s also got access to the maps that pinpoint ore-rich locations.
Digging in those locations isn’t exactly legal, and a quartet of moldavite miners get chased out of a quarry by police in an early scene after finding only low-value yields. But Pavel is in it for the love of the rock.
Kača (played by Pavel Liška in an atypical and almost entirely unsympathetic role), meanwhile, is in it for the money. Jobless and seemingly hopeless, he sees moldavite mining as a way to support his struggling family. But he needs Pavel’s expertise, and so the duo strike an uneasy 50-50 agreement.
Throughout the course of Green Horse Rustlers, I dug (no pun intended) all the illegal mining stuff, which ticks off some familiar beats from the John Huston-Humphrey Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
There are the usual tensions that percolate between the two rock hunters, and also a pair of bandits who track them from a mineral convention out into the woods to rob them of their finds.
But the film takes a sharp turn into rote melodrama through the character of Karolina (Jenovéfa Boková), Pavel’s wife. Boková is a talented young actress who lit up this year’s earlier Rodinný film, but here she’s saddled with an impossible task.
Five minutes into the film, her character is introduced Liška’s Kača, and almost immediately breaks down. Clearly, they know each other, and something terrible happened between them long ago.
A guy, a girl, and something bad – you can and most likely will guess what it is, but the filmmakers string it out over the course of the entire movie before the big (anti) climactic reveal during the movie’s final scenes, 90 minutes later.
And poor Boková is saddled with the weight of this character’s big secret throughout the film: in her every scene, she harangues Pavel about working with Kača even though he (and we) don’t know exactly what the big deal is.
Although there is conflict and strife in other elements of the film, this is the dramatic foundation the filmmakers choose rest their movie on. And it’s thin, flat, and stretched out far longer than it has any reason to be.
But even if the drama fall flat, Green Horse Rustlers (the name coming from the color of the moldavite, and the type of American cowboys Karolina compares the men to) is worth catching for a rare and authentic-feeling glimpse into a subculture you probably never knew existed.
In local cinemas, Green Horse Rustlers is preceded by the hand-drawn animated feature Strom (Tree) from Lucie Šimková-Sunková. It’s a beautiful little short, and something I wish distributors would do more often.