BY Willard Manus
From the Czech republic comes a gem of a film about the pernicious effect totalitarianism can have on a society, not only when it is in power but for many years afterwards.
Written by Petr Jarchovsky and directed by Jan Hrebejk, KAWASAKI'S ROSE deals with the complex fallout from Czechoslovakia's time under communist rule, circa 1945-1990.
The political system, essentially a criminal enterprise, was held together by the notorious STB--the secret police. Just about every facet of life was controlled by the STB, a "big brother" who kept an eye on things for its Stalinist bosses. To stay in the STB's good graces--when looking for a job, an education, a decent place to live--people often had to become informants for the organization. Refusal to conform could result in prison or exile.
KAWASAKI'S ROSE centers on Pavel (Martin Huba) a respected psychologist who is about to win an award for the principled stand he took against the communist regime. The reputation of this dissident, a symbol of moral integrity and courage, is called into question by his unpleasant son-in-law Ludek (Milan Mikulcik), who is part of a TV team doing a documentary about Pavel. By chance Ludek and his co-worker (and mistress) Radka (Petra Hrebickova) discover in the files evidence of Pavel's cooperation with the STB.
The revelation not only shatters Pavel's family but has repercussions felt as far away as Sweden. Living there is a roguish Czech sculptor, Borek (Antonin Kratochvil), who had to become an expatriate when he was fingered as a subversive by the erstwhile doctor.
The brilliance of KAWASAKI'S ROSE lies in the way it dramatizes the complicated moral issues people had to deal with during Czechoslovakia's communist past. The film sheds light on the wrongdoings of that era, but not in a shrill, vengeful way. On the contrary, KAWASAKI'S ROSE tells its story in an understated, compassionate manner, letting its human qualities and not its political message carry the day.