As he demonstrated four years ago in the superb, Oscar-nominated period piece Divided We Fall, filmmaker Jan Hrebejk has a fine talent for dramatizing the Czech flair for standing erect on insecure moral and political ground. The rollicking social comedy Up and Down continues the director’s interest in adaptability and its discontents, then ups the ante by setting the story in the shape-shifting post-Communist present.
Everyone in Hrebejk’s deft fable is busy snapping up opportunities while scaling down hopes. A woman desperate for a child (her husband’s arrest for soccer hooliganism precludes adopting) buys a baby left behind in an immigrant-smuggler’s truck. A professor’s illness forces a meeting of his bourgeois present (he lives with a pretty, younger woman and their well-bred daughter) and his scrappier Communist-era past (he left a bitter wife, Vera, and an estranged, now middle-aged son).
Up and Down captures Prague life with a fervor that’s comical but a longing that’s serious; no one is easy to pigeonhole: A glimpse of Vera, vibrant in a smoky pub, compacts a thousand words into a single picture. It takes an artist like Hrebejk to know when to point and shoot.