by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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I just love Film Movement’s films, and I was equally entranced by Protektor, a movie of love and sacrifice, centered on World War II in Prague, as the German forces move into this city in 1938.
Against the backdrop of this vibrant metropolis overtaken by Hitler’s forces, Protektor paints a chilling yet erotic portrait of a beautiful young Jewish movie star who refuses to succumb to the Nazi’s dictatorial presence—neither turning herself into the secret police, nor going completely underground.
Hana is married to Emil, who is of Czech descent and is a radio announcer. He is given the task of protecting his wife, whether she wants protection or not. This nail-biting thriller from Czech artist/filmmaker Marek Najbrt will have you wondering just when the forces will catch up to Hana, as she toyed with them, while showing up in places, i.e., the cinema, where Jews had been ordered not to visit. She would pose for photos with a sign that said Jews were forbidden as a photographer recorded the instance for history.
Hana refused to hide from authorities, as her poor husband did his best to protect her, while carrying out a job that he despised. Emil compromises himself by collaborating with the new Nazi-controlled state radio station, and he is now making radio announcements on behalf of the Reich.
Protektor will premiere in selected cities and is available from Film Movement on August 5. The film, which has played in dozens of International Film Festivals including Seattle, Karlovy Vary, Vancouver and Palm Springs, features stellar acting against a noir-esque period backdrop.
As the Nazis come into full power in Prague, Hana’s star takes a nosedive, along with her leading man, who is being hunted by the authorities. She longs for the silver screen or some remnants of it and finds a cinema and a manager who is willing to satisfy her yearnings, as he lets her sit and watch old movies of herself. He is the same photographer who goes out with Hana, while she flouts authorities and runs around the countryside as if she is totally free.
As part of the post “Velvet Revolution” film movement, according to Film Movement, Najbrt has described Protektor as a fundamental departure from the “state managed cinematography” of the Cold War era. In Najbrt’s words, the cinema initially following independence was, “from an artistic point of view…a period of confusion and searching, as well as successes.” The filmmaker describes the present wave as a renaissance with a
Film Movement also shares that in writing Protektor, Najbrt and his two screenwriting partners chose to focus on both the radio station and media’s response to the Nazi invasion, as well as the literal and symbolic role of bicycles in the city as focal points of the narrative. By creating protagonists whose identities are centered on modern, mass communication and entertainment—national radio broadcasters as well as cinephiles and movie stars—the writers create a window into the city and those who have the power to shape the public’s reaction to the appalling regime. Bicycles also figure prominently in the plot—literally and figuratively. Bicycles function as vehicles to propel the actors through their public and undercover operations, as well as an allusion to the seminal assassination of Reinhard Heydrich—a Nazi Party leader killed in Prague by assassins on bicycles. Najbrt also describes the symbolic significance of “the bicycle and painstaking pedaling [as] a symbol of human faith. The bicycle moves along, the pedals turn, however the question remains where it’s going to take you.”
Film Movement has again made it possible for great cinema to come right to your home, even if Protektor isn’t playing in a city near you. For more information, visit www.filmmovement.com.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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