Not another fairy tale: Beauty in Trouble

A paperback copy of a Milan Kundera novel, held in the hands of a Czech expat, briefly appears in Beauty In Trouble. It’s a fleeting moment (and easy to miss), but it’s also an important gesture of respect from director Jan Hrebejk. Like the best of Kundera’s fiction, Beauty In Trouble explores the ways that politics, history and economics can meet in the bedrooms of Prague.

The title’s Beauty is Marcela (Ana Geislerová), a down-on-her-luck mother of two. The Trouble is her husband, Jarda (Roman Luknár), an unlikable brute who’s resorted to stealing and chopping cars as a full-time profession. Cynical and thick-skinned, they’re scraping by in a world diminished by the Soviet Union’s failure and a disastrous flood. When Jarda lands in jail for a stolen Volvo, Marcela gets mixed up with the car’s owner, the wealthy and intellectual Evzen Benes (Josef Abrhám).

Marcela rejects Evzen’s advances at first, unimpressed by his culinary knowledge and generosity, but his lure is undeniable. He’s a soft-spoken and smart foil to her husband’s brutish character. Evzen left Prague for Italy in the ’60s and seems untouched by the dingy shadow of communism that lingers over Marcela’s and Jarda’s lives.

Though Evzen’s money and genteel demeanor bring him together with Marcela, the results are not a Pretty Woman-style fairy tale. Petr Jarchovský’s script examines how sexual desire can disagree with good intentions, raising realistic and startling questions about the love triangle between Marcela, Jarda and Evzen. In a move that might annoy some, the end of the film doesn’t resolve the story or the questions at all, opting instead to leave the viewers with a sort of ambiguous resonance.

Beauty In Trouble is one of those rare films that feels laboriously detailed and meaningful while still moving at a steady, watchable pace. Aside from a few ill-chosen English-language ballads on the soundtrack, and a couple of needlessly mundane scenes, the film gracefully navigates the deep waters of these troubled characters.