Friday, 4 December 2020

Czech Film Review: Wild Flowers

By Lee Robert Adams | Prague Daily Monitor |
22 July 2020

Like a struggling Hogwarts student about to flunk their final exam, F.A Brabec fails to conjure the requisite magic to transform Wild Flowers into something completely worth watching. Flashy visuals and a strong cast can't disguise the fact that this is an extremely patchy anthology based on the ballads of Czech folklorist, Karel Jaromir Erben.

Anthology movies are a tough proposition anyway, and are usually only as good as the strongest segment - a good case in point would be Twilight Zone: The Movie, where George Miller's brilliant "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" picked up the slack from deadweight stories directed by Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante. Usually, the weaker chapters of an anthology could be done away with altogether to make more space for the stronger ones, which often could be fleshed out into a movie of their own.

The seven tales that make up Wild Flowers certainly don't feature anything as strong as "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", but some are significantly better than the thinner material in the bunch.

The overall tone for the film is set in the short opening ballad, where a young mother is struck down by a case of bad acting while crossing a field during a thunderstorm, leaving her children orphaned. She returns as wild flowers on her grave, giving the film its title.

There are four half-decent segments and three that could be cut altogether. Of the better tales, Dan Bárta looks suitably moody as a jealous Water Sprite who takes a landlubber bride and threatens terrible vengeance against their newborn child if she doesn't return to him within a given period of time. This tale features some impressive underwater photography that really breathes life into the Sprite's submarine lair.

Karel Roden shows up to cackle a lot as the spectre of a dead husband who tries to spirit his grieving bride away to the underworld in Wedding Shirts, and animates a corpse to help him out when she hides in a crypt. This features a nice flying sequence and some suitably ghastly sound effects when the dead man gets up to do the spectre's bidding.

The kiddy-killing theme continues in The Noon-Day Witch, starring a barely recognizable Boleslav Polívka as a hideous old crone who is all too eager to answer a harried mother's wishes to silence her crying child. One of the best things about Wild Flowers is how it doesn't shy away from the grimmer aspects of these old tales.

Perhaps the strongest segment is the most ghoulish, The Golden Spinning Wheel. Aňa Geislerová plays both sisters in a blood-thirsty morality tale about a woman who murders and dismembers her twin to take her place beside a cackling prince (there's a lot of cackling going on in this movie), only to suffer a gruesome comeuppance when a magic spinning wheel alerts her new hubby to her crimes.

This summary might make the stories sound more interesting than they actually are. They quickly become repetitive, leaning heavily on the "rule of three" that is so common in fairy tales, and the storytelling is shallow and flimsy. Brabec seems preoccupied with the visuals - he drenches the movie with colour, applying filters like someone who has just bought a new digital camera and wants to try out all the modes. As such the film is superficially eye-catching but never settles on a cohesive style to draw the disparate elements together.

Despite all this, the film does have its moments. These tales have been around for centuries for a reason and occasionally manage to pierce through the surface-level gloss to deliver a macabre chill here or a deathly chuckle there. For the most part, the experience of watching Wild Flowers is like sitting through an ultra-extended director's cut of Men Without Hats "Safety Dance" video. I kept waiting for a little person dressed in a jester's outfit to show up, but to no avail.

***

Wild Flowers (Kytice) is showing on Czech Netflix at the time of writing.

Lee is a writer and film critic living in Brno. He studied film at uni, but dropped out halfway through because his tutor was always skiving off. He spent the next two decades using his half-education to passionately consume and write about movies. He has written for several outlets across the web, including the late-lamented Way Too Indie. In 2018 he founded Czech Film Review, approaching the cinema of his adopted home country from the perspective of a knowledgeable outsider.