Vladimír Morávek: Bored in Brno (Nuda v Brně), 2003
reviewed by Jana Nahodilová © 2006
This Czech comedy shot in black-and-white presents an ironic and touching portrayal of the embarrassing nature of ordinary life and an excellent depiction of existence in a provincial town. It is reminiscent of some of the best films from the Czechoslovak New Wave of the 1960s. Nuda v Brně, usually translated as Bored in Brno or more literally as Boredom in Brno, was made in 2003. The film is the debut of director Vladimír Morávek who works mainly in the theater, but who has also directed over forty documentaries and a number of fairytales for Czech state television. He co-wrote the screenplay with Jan Budař, who plays Standa, one of the leading characters. The film won the Czech Lions for best film, best director, best screenplay, best editing, and best actor in a leading role for Budař. Relatively unknown at the time, Budař has appeared in a number of acclaimed films since Bored in Brno, such as Champions (Mistři; dir. Marek Najbrt, 2004), Up and Down (Horem pádem; dir. Jan Hřebejk, 2004), Dirty Soul (Duše jako kaviár; dir. Milan Cieslar, 2004), and Toyen (dir. Jan Němec, 2005). The excellent actress, Kateřina Holánová, who plays Budař’s counterpart armed with prosthetic teeth has, unfortunately, not appeared in any major film since. Morávek, together with some of the cast including Budař, attempted to follow up the success of Bored in Brno, but Hrubeš and Mareš are the Best Pals / Hrubeš and Mareš Friends Come Rain or Shine (Hrubeš a Mareš jsou kamarádi do deště, 2005) proved to be a failure.
The story of Bored in Brno takes place over the course of a single Saturday night in Brno, where four different couples meet in a series of comic situations with varying degrees of success in their quest to be together. At the heart of the film is a story about the coming of age of two young people with minor mental disabilities―Standa Pichlík (Jan Budař) and Olinka Šimáková (Kateřina Holánová)―and, in particular, of their first night together. Only two of the film’s four independent plot lines intersect and coincide fully at the end, but there is a series of common themes that connect them: sexual obsession, difficulties in forming relationships, the solitude of contemporary city life, and the core idea of traditional true love being the basis of satisfying relationships. All the characters, bored, often embarrassing, and generally disillusioned, are searching in vain for simple, mutual, reciprocal love, but the quest is overshadowed and obstructed by their open obsession with sex.
First and foremost, Bored in Brno deals with the nature of relationships and juxtaposes two aspects of them, romantic love and lust. The old idea of romantic, simple love seems to be successful whereas new forms of relationship become corrupted and fail. Only Olinka achieves true love because she acts out of love (she even puts up stickers saying "I Love You" everywhere), whereas Standa seems to act more hormonally. The director himself says that this character does not want to be a virgin anymore and, if he dared, he would even ask the woman in the dairy store (“Rozhovor s Vladimírem Morávkem”). Most of the other characters fail to find true love―be it the aging couple of local actor Miroslav Norbacher (Miroslav Donutil) and uptight private psychologist Vlasta Kulková-Jará (Pavla Tomicová), who attempt to have an affair together but fail to achieve consummation; the young couple of sadomasochistic Richard Klen (Marek Daniel) and timid Jaroslava Pleváková (Ivana Uhlířová) who cannot agree on sexual technique; Olinka’s mother, Miriam Šimáková (Jaroslava Pokorná), who is scared of getting hurt again and abandons her date; Standa’s brother Jaroslav Pichlík (Martin Pechlát) who feigns being very experienced but is more scared than Standa; or one of the neighbors, Jitka Spáčilová (Simona Peková), who is portrayed as a divorced sexual predator. The only other couple to find kindred spirits in each other is that of the two young male friends, Honza Beďura (Pavel Liška) and Pavel Velička (Filip Rajmont), whose narrative is dominated by the discovery and final acceptance of their homosexuality. It is not until they are shaken by the killing of Miroslav Norbacher when driving their van in the early morning that they admit their love for each other. Only in face of death, when they realise their own fragility, can they be honest with each other. Aside from Olinka and Standa, they are the only pair in the film whose relationship is not doomed.
Although a comedy with numerous slapstick scenes, Bored in Brno poses serious questions about the traditional stereotypes of what constitutes a “healthy” relationship. After all, only the mentally disabled and homosexual couples achieve happiness. Those who are self-obsessed, manipulative, or too frightened to try, will never succeed. The film suggests that only giving oneself fully to the other through generous and selfless behavior can provide the basis for a healthy and happy relationship. Just how old―and perhaps very traditional―this notion is, is highlighted by drawing an obvious parallel between Standa and Olinka coming together and the image of a wedding night. All the preparations they undergo resemble a traditional wedding, including friends giving advice, approval of a groom, a traditional song celebrating the loss of virginity “Daisy chain is floating on the water” (“Věneček plave si po vodě”), and celebration of the successful consummation of the relationship.
That sex will be the predominant concern of all the characters is signalled from the opening scene, even before the credits, in which Norbacher, as part of a unit making a TV film, repeats the line: “Do you know how much sex there will be in Brno tonight?” But just as he will not be able to perform later with Vlasta, Norbacher cannot perform in this sketch either. He finds the figures he has been given unbelievably high and proceeds to check the calculation. Just as the sketch must be repeated over and over again, the search for affection, mired in the confusion between desire for love, on the one hand, and sex, on the other, is replayed in different incarnations in each of the four stories. In addition to foreshadowing the content, this opening scene also sets the tone of the film―a comic social commentary with some horribly awkward moments.
The film also raises a series of gender related issues. A closer look at the characters of women in particular suggests a further layer to the film. Women in this film seem to try to dominate, not only numerically but also in terms of their aggressiveness. Olinka writes to Standa to invite him to come and stay, and uses her initiative throughout. The characters of the psychologist Vlasta and the neighbour Jitka are very similar: they are stereotypical portrayals of divorced, affected, forty-something women, who are obviously desperate to attract men and will go to almost any lengths to achieve their objectives. In her private practice, Vlasta teaches other women how to get men. Though her humiliating overtures towards Norbacher lead to his coming to her flat, nothing happens because of Norbacher’s literal impotence. Jitka is very sexual, constantly talks about men, and her target is Standa’s brother Jarda. But Jarda is so frightened by her predatory behavior that he runs away and finishes up dangling from a window ledge. It seems rather excessive to use two very similar characters (Jitka and Vlasta) in this film. More puzzling though is why Jitka’s surname is Spáčilová and her profession that of culture editor in a newspaper, because this seems to allude to the well-known cultural editor of the major Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes, Mirka Spáčilová. Perhaps this is a personal joke? A further problem with Jitka’s role is a technical one: the connection between the scene when the inexperienced Jaroslav gets frightened by Jitka and his resultant hanging from a window ledge gets lost in the editing, and so, just like Jaroslav, the viewer is also left hanging.
The other two main female characters, Jaroslava and Olinka’s mother Miriam, are not aggressive, nor do they try to dominate. Nevertheless they take control of situations. The quiet young student, Jaroslava, decides to leave Richard and, although Miriam seems to be holding back, in the final analysis she is in control―it is she who decides that she will not be with another man.
The men in the film are shy (Standa, Jarda), pathetic (Norbacher), and self-obsessed (Richard, Pavel). Norbacher is perhaps the most intriguing character because he is played by Brno’s most famous actor, Miroslav Donutil, who himself left Brno for Prague to become a household name and popular actor in contemporary Czech cinema and TV. This is why Norbacher’s pathetic reminiscing in the pub about how he could have gone to Prague, but wanted to stay true to his town is even more poignant. Perhaps the most touching scene is of Norbacher’s attempts to speak to his wife Marie, whom he calls after having failed to sleep with Vlasta. When Marie, whose birthday it is, hangs up on him, his line (“You just hung up on our twenty years together”) is bitter and mournful at the same time. His drunken shouting on the tram is full of the unrealised dreams of a squandered existence. The fact that the viewer knows in advance that Norbacher will die at 4.02 the following morning adds a further sense of futility and inevitability to his fruitless existence.
The most amusing symbol of the uneven balance of power between men and women (used throughout the film) is the signifier for the phallus, the Czech soft bread roll rohlík. The film starts with Jaroslav teaching Standa how to put on a condom using a roll and the shot in which Standa is holding a roll between his legs is immediately followed by one of Olinka chopping the same sort of bread rolls for canapés for her female neighbors to consume at a party later that night. Women, then, continue consuming rolls throughout the film. Symbolically, they are portrayed as sexual predators who threaten men and the fear of women is ever present. Men, it is suggested at the end of the film, can regain control of their lives, but only if they stop feeling that their sexuality is threatened. Honza and Pavel deliver rolls with their van and, on hitting and killing Norbacher, rolls tumble out of the van onto the street. Only at that stage do Honza and Pavel express their love for each other. In these ways the film combines humor with pathos.
According to Budař, the film came out of his discussions in a bar with two other men, Morávek and the producer of the film, Čestmír Kopecký, about their first experiences with women (“Rozhovor s Janem Budařem: Dotýkej se mě, Stando aneb Nuda v Brně”). Much of the film is a slapstick comedy about tortuous relationships between men and women, and in particular, farcical attempts at sexual conquest. At the same time, it deals with serious questions. While watching the film, it is difficult to discern the dividing line between slapstick comedy, irony, and social commentary. On one level, with all its allusions to castration, Bored in Brno can be seen as being concerned with male frustration, with a sense of loss, failure, or powerlessness embodied in the strength of the female characters. On another level, the articulation of women’s desire in this film interrupts traditional stereotypical narratives, in particular in the character of Olinka. It is often unclear where one should stop laughing and start sympathising.
A third dominant theme in the film is the discussion of provinciality and social cohesion. Three of the main storylines share a location, a block where Olinka lives and welcomes Standa, and where most of the characters either live or go back to in order to have sex with their counterparts. The film’s attitude towards the block is deeply suggestive. The cohesion of the inhabitants―long gone in today’s society―is nostalgically recalled when most of the female neighbors help Olinka prepare for her big night. The coincidence of the characters from different stories living in the same house makes sense when one considers why the filmmakers chose Brno as a setting for their film. Brno, as the second biggest city in the Czech Republic and capital of Moravia, has aspects of both the provincial town and the sophisticated city. When Standa arrives, he admires the technology of an automatic door, but at the same time the slow pace of life there is highlighted by long shots of old people and women walking around. As the producer has admitted: “Brno patriotism, according to which the city can be compared to Paris or Venice, resonates in the film. Ironically” (Hlinka). And as Morávek himself has said about their choice: “we all carry that provinciallity and desire to escape in us.” So, by chosing Brno and deciding to make most of the characters live on the same block, the filmmakers have highlighted both the smallness and anonymity of the place.
There is one couple―Honza and Pavel―that has no connection with the house. This, perhaps, is in order to make the connections between the other characters more believable. But the choice is also slightly unfortunate. Without over interpreting this decision, the exclusion of the only homosexual couple from the house around which everything centers is a little puzzling, even if the choice was made in order to make a point.
Brno itself is celebrated in one of the best scenes in the film, when Olinka puts sleeping pills into her mother’s coffee so that she can still arrange to receive Standa despite her mother’s unexpected return. This is an obvious allusion to the scene from the famous Czech play Maryša by Alois and Vilém Mrštík, whose life and work was closely connected to Brno. In the play, Maryša was unhappily married and when she could not stand it any longer, poisoned her husband’s coffee. In the same way Olinka refuses to tolerate her mother’s restrictions and wants to have Standa at whatever cost.
Two further devices used to connect different stories are worth noting. First is the imaginative use of voiceover technique, with its omniscient, invisible narrator introducing the viewer to all the characters, filling in their pasts and also what will happen to them in the future. Given the gender imbalance in the film, it is ironic that the voice is male. The second device is the use of the pub. At the beginning of the film we meet all the characters―except Olinka―in a local pub where they sit in pairs discussing relationships, love, and sex. The film then skillfully manages to shift between different pairs and storylines whilst at the same time pointing at the inevitable interconnections that exist between the characters. For the viewer to see the characters together in a pub is an important symbol in Czech society; pubs appear in many works of art as a place where the most important issues such as politics, philosophy, art, sport, and above all life are discussed. Olinka, however, is excluded from the pub, in the same way that a bride cannot be seen in public. The cinematogapher Marek Diviš manages to convey the film’s message through some imaginative shots: for example, consecutive shots of all the men who will and will not be satisfied that night―Jarda, Richard, Honza, Norbacher, and Miriam’s date. The use of both the pub and the house to connect the stories is perhaps a reflection of financial constraints, but also emphasizes both the anonymity of contemporary city life and the universality of the issues under discussion.
The central idea of the film is emphasized in a song that is repeated in different variations, at different tempos according to the situation, and is sung by different characters throughout the film. This song, “Everything will happen tonight” (“Všechno se stane dneska v noci”), as well as the opening scene, leaves the viewer in no doubt that the film is about only one night and that everything will be resolved in the course of that night. Thus, the title of the film, Bored in Brno, is more than ironic. Even though all the relationships in the film come to a climax and resolution, and although the night is very important for the characters, on a wider scale, these relationships are mundane. These are little people and nobody will ever hear about them.
Bored in Brno has a very narrow focus but a broad relevance. The group of people portrayed in the film could be any group of people living on any block of flats in any town. The final few scenes of the film―a shot of car driving over a roll at the scene of an accident, a shot of Jaroslava who has decided to leave Richard, Vlasta who forgives herself, and Miriam who will now have to begin a new life in light of Olinka’s decision to be with Standa―suggest that it is the women who are ultimately changing because the men do not seem to find the strength to face the challenge. The narrow focus of the film hints at a much wider phenomenon: the often banal, amusing, and distressing attempts that people make to form satisfying relationships. The fact that the only couple that successfully consummates its love is mentally disabled simply highlights the insanity of the modern world in which most of us try to do this.
Jana Nahodilová, University of Bristol
Hlinka, Jiří. “Po dlouhé době jsem si natáčení naplno užil.” Interview with Čestmír Kopecký on
the official site for the film.
“Rozhovor s Janem Budařem: Dotýkej se mě, Stando aneb Nuda v Brně.” Interview with Jan Budař on the official site for the film.
“Rozhovor s Vladimírem Morávkem, Láska a smrt v české komedii od Vladimíra Morávka Nuda v Brně aneb Olino, já jsem šokovaná.” Interview with Vladimír Morávek on the official site for the film.
Bored in Brno, Czech Republic, 2003
Black-and-white, 103 minutes
Director: Vladimír Morávek
Screenplay: Jan Budař and Vladimír Morávek, based on Pavel Beďura’s story “Standa debutuje.”
Cinematography: Diviš Marek
Music: Jan Budař
Editor: Jiří Brožek
Cast: Jan Budař, Kateřina Holánová, Miroslav Donutil, Pavla Tomicová, Marek Daniel, Ivana Uhlířová, Jaroslava Pokorná, Martin Pechlát, Simona Peková, Pavel Liška, Filip Rajmont, and others.
Producers: Čestmír Kopecký, Jan Štern, Šárka Dvořáková
Production Supervisors: Alexej Guha, Šárka Dvořáková
Production: Čestmír Kopecký - První veřejnoprávní / Česká televize (Centrum dramatické tvorby).
Vladimír Morávek: Bored in Brno (Nuda v Brně), 2003
reviewed by Jana Nahodilová © 2006