KVIFF 2018 Review: Downbeat Czech Drama ‘Na krátko’ (‘Short Cut’)
A young boy yearns to be reconnected with his far-away father, but is a less than impressed with what he he gets from him, in Na krátko (Short Cut), the latest film from Czech director Jakub Šmíd (2015’s Laputa).
According to Mom (Petra Špalková, in a standout performance), the father that young Jakub (Jindřich Skokan) has never met is on a boat off the coast of Sweden. Older half-sister Pavlina also has an absent dad, who lives in the U.S., but at least he keeps in touch with her. All Jakub has is an old t-shirt.
Poor Jakub is bullied at school, teased by his sister at home, and browbeaten by hard-luck Mom and a grandmother (Marta Vančurová) who comes to help out around their small-town flat. And he acts out accordingly, including one near-unforgivable instance when he cuts his sister’s hair while she’s sleeping.
But things start to change when Jakub witnesses a strange man leave a letter in his postbox, and soon discovers that the father he never knew isn’t riding the seas - he’s just a few blocks across town.
While Dad (Martin Finger) also wants to reconnect with the son he abandoned years ago, he isn’t exactly the hero that Jakub had in mind: an alcoholic who spends most of his time talking football in the local pub and passes out on the sofa while his son prepares dinner, Finger’s father isn’t exactly the figure that is going to turn Jakub’s life around.
Špalková is exceptional as the overworked mother who doesn’t know how to help her son, but it’s young Skokan as Jakub who makes the biggest impression here. While Jakub begins the film with some bouncy narration based around his love of paper cutouts, that kind of connection with the audience is soon dropped as director Šmíd places the audience on the outside looking in to the tragic life of this young boy.
Na krátko (Short Cut) is clearly a riff on the Truffaut classic The 400 Blows, with young Jakub’s plight mimicking that of Antoine Doinel at numerous stages. But it’s both less eventful and less optimistic, with a final shot that contradicts Truffaut’s fleeting glimmer of hope (instead of the beaches of France, Jakub is still stuck in the same rut).
Filmed in rural locations throughout the Czech during the winter months, but distressingly set in the same small town that seems to provide no connection to the outside world, cinematographer Vidu Gunaratna gives Na krátko a chilly-cool palette that matches its icy and unforgiving narrative.
Drained of any optimism, Na krátko (Short Cut) is almost oppressively downbeat but it’s also an assured feature from director Šmíd that pointedly captures the hopelessness of small town lives stuck in a standstill - - and the unfortunate lives headed towards the same destination.
Na krátko (Short Cut) is currently screening at the 2018 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as part of its section on current Czech films; keep an eye out for future screenings in Prague.