A Jewish woman pushes the limits of her freedom in the Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in Marek Najbrt’s stylishly photographed Protektor.
At the risk of being politically incorrect, a steady output from filmmakers over the years have turned Holocaust dramas into a trite genre, which is a shame considering the magnitude of the human tragedy and its importance in human history. Czech filmmaker Marek Najbrt tackles this subject with a different approach-both aesthetically and thematically-in his latest film, Protektor, which is scheduled to cap off this year’s Jewish Film Festival.
Set at the dawn of World World II in Czechoslovakia, the marriage of blossoming actress Hana (Jana Plodková) and radio producer Emil (Marek Daniel) is about to be tested by the German occupation. Hana, who is Jewish, has to put her acting career on hold under the iron fist of the Third Reich. On the other hand, Emil is promoted to be the host of a popular public broadcast after his colleague was axed for refusing to report Nazi propaganda. In exchange for Hana’s safety, Emil becomes a Nazi mouthpiece as he rises in rank at the radio station. Emil justifies his actions as a means to protect Hana, who he locked up at their apartment to avoid German eyes. The headstrong Hana refuses to be bound by threats of persecution and sneaks out to a local movie theater, where she befriends an enamored projectionist-Petr (Tomás Mechácek).
The look and sounds of the film set a very different tone from the other Holocaust films right from the get-go. The film’s sepia palette gives it a retro look while the framing indicates it is a very polished modern movie-including the occasional jumpy movement from a handheld camera that is ostensibly calculated. The soundtrack is mixed with electronic music and traditional style vocal jazz. Given the small scale of the film, its production design impressively imitates the appearance of that period. Imitation is about as far as the film goes. Protektor is infused with nostalgia in its references to cinema, radio, music and photography. Najbrt sells the film as an admirer of the era looking in from the outside but has not committed to submit his film to this very world, and thus making it difficult to be fully invested in the suspense of the drama.
Protektor is a refreshing take on the Holocaust in that the film puts the focus more on the personal relationships affected by historical events instead of macroscopic concern of the human tragedy. The disintegration of the protagonists’ marriage is fascinating, yet peripheral characters such as Petr did not make enough impact to the overall story and end up distracting the film from its due course. Najbrt also seems to be very attached to the prevailing bicycle motif in the film yet the bicycle-related metaphor feels half-baked. At the film’s turning point, Emil is worried about being associated with an attempted assassination of a Nazi officer because of a bike he rode. But the plot line ends up being frustratingly confusing as the role of the bike and Emil’s anxiety are never addressed in the sprint to the movie’s conclusion.
Protektor will be playing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on March 20th at 3:15 pm.