For a young filmmaker, there are few things as exciting as having his or her film screened at the Cannes film festival. This dream will be realized by Michal Hogenauer, whose FAMU graduate film Tambylles (Therewasaforest) was recently recognized by the festival’s organizers as among the top 15 entries from 320 film schools around the world and will compete for a prize at the upcoming festival in the French seaside town of Cannes in May.
Hogenauer’s film is as uncomfortable to watch as his main character, an anonymous young guy (Ivan Říha) from a small town who has recently been released from a juvenile detention center. Stripped down to very minimalist scenes and a lead actor who always has to contain his emotions, this film is not particularly viewer-friendly.
At first, it seems the film is a documentary, as a number of characters are interviewed by an increasingly annoying filmmaker (Jan Šantroch) who asks persistent, provocative questions. But slowly, as the credibility of the staging becomes more and more flawed, we realize this is a film within a film, and the filmmaker is put onscreen inside more static, well-composed images. Luckily for us, director Hogenauer’s preoccupation with form is done away with more or less as soon as this fictional filmmaker’s attempts to provoke confrontation fail to deliver and he leaves the central plot.
These well-composed images are certainly one of the highlights of the experience of watching Tambylles, although I found myself tuning out very often because there is so little to tune into. Though the fictional filmmaker tried to construct the first 15 minutes of the film in a way so every interview is interrupted in order to create a cliffhanger, our anticipation constantly heightened, we find out very little about the central character and the events that sent him to the Big House. “Everyone one should know what he did,” says one character. Yes, they should, but what is it?
Given the fact this central character says so very little, becoming more and more isolated from society and from us, and isn’t even given a name, he does not represent something universal – rather, he fades out in every scene to which he is supposed to bring some substance, or interest.
But actor Ivan Říha has captivating eyes that pulls the viewer toward the screen. Despite his visible solitude (and despite a completely unbelievable domestic situation: It’s not just a lack of chemistry between him and his parents, but a lack of any feeling whatsoever) and lack of much to hold on to in terms of character traits, we certainly want to find out more and he offers the promise of something more. Unfortunately, he never fulfills that promise.
It is difficult to become involved in the development of a film that is going nowhere. We keep waiting for confrontations that Hogenauer instead chooses to avoid. The confrontation (provoked by the fictional filmmaker) between him and the mother of his victim is wordless and actionless; the confrontation between him and the fictional filmmaker consists of him grabbing the camera and storming off, though this action is elided by means of a cut; the confrontation between him and his boss, who discovers his secret, is avoided when he storms off, again; and a final suicidal confrontation is shown without any sound.
Minimalism is one thing, but deliberate pigheadedness is another. Říha’s face (the only thing the character has going for it) can only interest us for a limited time, and that time is much shorter than the film’s 55-minute running time.
Hogenauer shows great promise with his camera, but the images he creates cannot inspire us to sympathize with a character who encounters resistance everywhere he goes, and we have no real clue about his past and don’t get an insight into his feelings in the present. Along the way, a character played by Hogenauer himself steals away the girl who might have brought this guy out of his shell. A fitting metaphor.