Billed as something of a precursor to Pelíšky (Cost Dens), the highest-rated Czech movie of all-time, director Jan Hřebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský’s Zahradnictví (Garden Store) trilogy didn’t evoke explicit memories of their earlier film in Rodinný přítel (Family Friend) and Dezertér (Deserter), the first two entries released earlier this year.
But that changes with their final installment, Nápadník (Suitor), which does indeed bridge the gap between between the first two WWII-era Garden Store films and the filmmakers’ beloved 1999 feature, set in the late 1960s.
In Zahradnictví: Nápadník (The Garden Store: Suitor), the sprawling family depicted in the first two films is largely cast aside to focus on the coming-of-age story of Daniela (Anna Fialová), the now (nearly) adult daughter of Vilma (Aňa Geislerová) and Jindřich (Martin Finger).
The cantankerous father Jindřich, by the way, is the lone character to appear in both the Garden Store films and Pelíšky, where he is played by Jiří Kodet; over the course of the three movies, Finger has quite nicely grown into the role as defined by the earlier film.
The titular suitor is Mirek (Ivan Lupták), who Daniela meets while on summer vacation at the garden store run by her aunt Emilka (Lenka Krobotová) and uncle Miloš (David Novotný), and quite literally sweeps her off her feet in a charming introductory bicycle sequence.
It’s young love, but Mirek and Daniela seem to really care for each other, and keep up the romance for months after Daniela returns to Prague, where Mirek visits on the weekend. Dad is having none of it, however – he wants a brighter future for his daughter – and blocks the progression of their relationship at every opportunity.
And while Jindřich is the lone antagonist in this story of young romance – the rest of the family, including mom, aunts Ela (Gabriela Míčová) and Bedřiška (Klára Melíšková), and cousin Karlík (Filip Březina) all support Daniela and Mirek – that’s enough to provide all the story tension Suitor can muster.
But it’s sufficient. On its own, Suitor is a sweetly charming little feature that quite nicely captures the lives and attitudes of the common people in full-throttle communist Czechoslovakia in the late 1950s. In this regard, it’s most likely to please audiences looking for something comparable to Pelíšky.
Without the external drama of the first two films, however – the horrors of WWII and its aftermath, followed by the tensions surrounding the communist coup, which drove apart the central family – this one feels a lightweight by comparison, and will rate as the series’ weakest entry for those charting the bigger picture detailed in the first two movies.
Still, Suitor is a match to its predecessors on a technical and emotional level, and a perfectly fitting conclusion to this wonderful trilogy from Hřebejk and Jarchovský, one of the highlights in a banner year for Czech cinema.
Finger’s domineering performance dictates the course of the movie, but Geislerová, as his world-weary wife, turns in the most touching work in the film, with subtly powerful callbacks to the first film, Family Friend. And the bright Fialová, in the lead role, is a future star.
Period-era sets and costumes throughout the trilogy have been first-rate, but the recreation of drab Soviet-era Prague in this film is truly striking, niely captured by cinematographer Bartek Cierlica. The richly atmospheric soundtrack for all three films was recorded by Petr Ostrouchov.
Like its predecessors, The Garden Store: Suitor was hit with a lukewarm reception by both local critics or audiences. That’s a real shame: this ambitious project might not be the Czech Republic’s answer to Heimat, but it vividly realizes the journey of its central family during Czechoslovakia’s most tumultuous years, and in doing so captures the transformation of the country itself.
Also see my reviews for the first two films in the trilogy, Zahradnictví: Rodinný přítel (The Garden Store: Family Friend) and Zahradnictví: Dezertér (The Garden Store: Deserter).