Lóve is a deeply sinister film. There aren’t many films made these days in Bratislava or Slovakia that make it to theatres. More particularly there are even fewer films for young Slovaks to see themselves in. I’ve just survived the brutal skinhead-centric feature My Dog Killer (opening film of Febiofest) and had higher hopes for the very glamorously and heavily marketed Lóve.
Here we have three typical student girls living in the main dormitories at Mlynskina Dolina. They sneak boys in and out of their rooms and dream of having punky guys turn up with pear spirits in their underpants. After drinking the bottle straight, some of them have sex with the said punky guys. The next week Sandra cries that Tomas doesn’t call her anymore. So far so good. The same maudlin story which French étudiantes might live through, albeit with better rooms and better liquor.
Meanwhile one of them Veronika, the cutest, is flunking out of her Management courses (which are supposed to be at the Economics University, target of some well earned and pointed jokes about the empty headed and pretty girls who attend that institution – but then Veronika’s exam turns out to be Comenius University which has no particular problem with its management program). Apparently one of her classmates gets straight A’s by blowing the professor in the afternoon.
All of this is just fine if a little depressing. Not the best image of Slovakia but perhaps something in common with grim reality.
Where we go downhill is with the guys. Our twenty two year old protagonists Mato and Tomas are best friends from childhood. When they are not circulating among the city’s brothels or trashing Bratislava’s nightclubs, they have a little hobby nicking cars for Boris. Boris is a great guy. If you don’t bring him the car he orders he drills a hole in your hand. As Mato and Tomas are very good at what they do, they don’t have problems with Boris.
Our two guys swear and bitch and have contests to see who can steal the most gear from parked cars in a lot. Then they smoke up or drink beer. They never clean their vile apartment.
The problem with Lóve becomes apparent. These empty-headed car thieves without morals are put up on the big screen as almost our only image of youth. The heavy advertising campaign meant that as large a young film public as exists saw Mato, Veronika, Tomas and Sandra as their big screen counterparts. While serial killer Jason Bourne is hardly the ideal image, international espionage beats petty larceny and is at least far enough removed from life as to not be aspirational.
Jakub Kroner, we need better images of ourselves. There’s enough petty toughs and trashy floozies in Bratislava without glamorising them at the center of the few films we have.
While Kroner’s script meanders at points (he could use some tighter script editing), despite the best efforts of cinematographer Mario Ondris and editor Otakar Senovsky, there are some pretty moments, particularly at the top of one of the buildings of Bratislava with Mato and Veronika and even the car chase.
Still it’s not all blackness.
Mato and Veronika fall in love and Mato starts to aspire to something better and cleaner. When Veronika is kicked out of her exam he gets caught out in his lie of working reception at the Sheraton. Mato turns up and pays the real concierge €400 for his jacket. The misunderstandings between Mato, a woman with a lapdog, the manager and the original concierge verge on classic comedy. A pity we didn’t have more of this dark comedy.
Michal Nemtuda as Mato carries his role quite well. He’s no Vincent Cassel (who ironically enough started in a similar role in La Haine) but avoids most of the melodramatic bearpits the script puts in his path. As Veronika, Kristina Svarinská would be the revelation among the actors: she’s beautiful and compellingly intense. Abandoned by her mother at birth, growing up in an orphanage, somehow it seems unlikely Veronika would come through so unscarred, but if producers can get away with overly glamourous actresses in Hollywood why not Bratislava?
Though Samuel Spisák acts more of a caricature than a character as film’s happy go lucky drug dealer, Spisák does not lack charisma. He might shine in the right title role. Ironically and tragically enough the very talented Dusan Cinkota who shines in the role of tough guy Boris is in real life prison for eight years for drug use (pervitin). Cinkota lost his appeal in December 2012 against the case from 2007.
Still I’m wondering why we couldn’t have seen one of the many successful students whom I know with some progress made in life and without a prison term.
These hard working young people could open a restaurant or start a clothing store or sell cars (and not steal them). I know people with complicated love lives doing all of the above. I hope Jakub Kroner makes some new friends before he makes his next film and gives us something to aspire to, something to admire about ourselves on those rare occasions we get to see ourselves in the cinematic mirror.