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Exclusive: Czech Film Explores Coming of Age, Communist Style

The 2010 Czech film Identity Cards (Občanský průkaz) isn’t your typical coming of age film. The best films in this genre are set in the 1960s and 1970s and this film is no exception. This was the era in which a global youth culture centered on underage substance abuse, blue jeans, and rock-n-roll blossomed. All of these things are featured prominently in Identity Cards. But, the four friends at the heart of Identity Cards are growing up in urban Communist Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s, not the American suburbs. Their natural creativity and independent spirits make them accidental rebels against a totalitarian state.

The warm and fuzzy 1970s colors of the period are marvelously captured in this film along with the communist kitsch of the era. In fact Czechoslovakia was one of the most materially developed of the Warsaw Pact countries, second only to East Germany. Identity Cards is a comedy though splashed with the sort of tagic scenes one would expect in from the communist setting. The emotional climax of the film is centered on disastrous family trip to Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, this scene comes a bit to early and probably should have been placed a bit later in the film.

European films, unlike there Hollywood counterparts tend to be much more comfortable with moral ambiguity. There is much of that here, a hippy leader is revealed as a secret communist agent and the films bully, a local policeman, is eventually himself a victim of the government he upholds. This subtlety has its limits; the films portrayal of average Russians as pure villains is at times over the top.

In one scene, a Russian woman snatches up the fresh meat local butchers, a scene common enough in Soviet times. Yet, the directors over play the scene by having the Russian woman add, “You can eat grass” to the Czech house wives standing in line behind her. This reverse Maria Antionette quip coupled with the scenes of Russian wives living extravagant lifestyles in period Prague are unfortunate caricatures. Many modern day Czech resent recent Russian immigrants to cities like Prague and Karlovy Vary who are stereotyped as participants in conspicuous consumption, awfully close to the depiction of Russians in Identity Cards.

These flaws do not detract from the stylistic strengths of the film which portrays the mood of the era in a very accessible way. The soundtrack is great collection of 1970s American and Czech songs from the period. In all, the films juxtaposition of rite of passage themes, comedy and a kitsch totalitarianism ensures that Občanský průkaz has a strong identity that will appeal to many filmgoers.

About the Author

Joseph Hammond is a freelance journalist who has been published in California, Estonia, Egypt, and Jordan. He enjoys learning languages and is pretty good at table football. He’s a big fan of boxing, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and FC Barçelona. He is currently based in Prague, Czech Republic.

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  1. Kalo Navary? Do you mean Karlovy Vary?

    Knowing the Czechs, I dont think they were referencing Marie Antoinette either... Likely anything over-the-top says more about them than it does their criticisms, such as their hatred for the Russians being without discrimination.

    Hating Russians (to the Czechs) can never be "over-the-top." The more over the top it is, the more their anudiences enjoy it.

  2. Kalo Navary? Do you mean Karlovy Vary?

    Knowing the Czechs, I dont think they were referencing Marie Antoinette either... Likely anything over-the-top says more about them than it does their criticisms, such as their hatred for the Russians being without discrimination.

    Hating Russians (to the Czechs) can never be "over-the-top." The more over the top it is, the more their audiences enjoy it.

  3. Yes, Karlovy Vary....fixed -Eds.


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