Babi leto (Autumn Spring)
directed by Vladimir Michalek
(First Look, 2001)

Getting old can be a spirit-depleting slog downhill, an endless series of insults, ricocheting from failing health to empty wallet and back to children who have no gratitude.

That's what makes Fanda (Vlastimil Blodsky) such a riveting character: in the face of all this, Fanda's refusing to grow up, to act even a fraction of his seven-plus decades on earth, seems like a most inspired rebellion.

Fanda lives in Autumn Spring, a 2001 movie by Czech director Vladimir Michalek and writer Jiri Hubac. (The original title, Babi leto, translates more accurately as Indian Summer; the change was a distribution business decision.) Always low key, Autumn Spring, is a look, sometimes gently comedic, sometimes unflinchingly painful, at the emotional core of being old.

Much to the exasperation of a long-suffering wife, Emilie (Stella Zazvorkova), Fanda and his old theater colleague, Ed, spend their days playing parts on the streets. They're an orchestra conductor hunting, with his assistant, for a villa. They're undercover subway guards. Their drama skills are well-honed: in one scene that combines mischief with real pathos, Fanda convinces a stranger he's really a long-lost friend who's gotten shorter following a climbing accident on Everest -- but then the stranger confesses he's at the cemetery to visit the gravesite of his wife, and Fanda's face becomes a conflict of fear and genuine compassion.

Fanda's wife, meanwhile, is stretched thin after first encouraging, then tolerating and now just barely withstanding his whimsy. Forty-four years is a long time to be the only acting grownup in a household, and their son doesn't help much. Living with his wife and his ex-wife, the son's desperate for his parents' apartment, eager to move them to a retirement home. He's the kind of son who buys his parents a secondhand burial plot as their birthday gift.

The core of Autumn Spring is the conjoined performances of Brodsky, Zazvorkova and Stanislav Zindulka as Ed. They have so obviously breathed the same air for decades, they know how far they can push the others and they depend on each other for a sense of worth the outside world won't give them.

Brodsky, especially, with his despondent jowls curling suddenly into mirth, is a resplendent Fanda. It's a fantastic character study, and it was his last role; he committed suicide in 2002 in Prague.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 30 October 2004

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