Up and Down
—About this Film pdf
How funny can racism and xenophobia be? Well, actually we have often laughed at such things, often inappropriately. But in the Czech film Up and Down, director Jan Hrebejk offers us a chance to laugh in the face of these things because of their underlying absurdity.
Up and Down is a collection of interconnecting stories. The first story is about a group of petty criminals who (among other things) smuggle people into the country. On one of their trips in, they manage to unload the immigrants, but fail to notice a baby that the sick mother has accidentally forgotten in the rush out of the truck.
And then there is the childless couple: the woman desperately longs for a child, but cannot have one; the man, who has serious anger management issues, is a devoted worshiper of the local football team. They end up buying the immigrant’s child from the smugglers, even though it is “black” or, more precisely, gypsy.
There is also the story of a university professor who likely has a short time left to live. Faced with his mortality, he seeks to divorce the wife he abandoned nearly twenty years ago, and reconcile with his son from that marriage who now lives in Australia. The professor’s current wife and their daughter are less than thrilled with prospect of this family reunion. (The daughter knew nothing of this first family.)
It is the story of this family that makes up the central metaphor of the film. Who does or doesn’t belong? Is the true family the legal one or the illegal one? Who has a right to feel resentment? What is it that draws them all together?
In a country with an influx of immigrants, who does or doesn’t belong to the society, the legal ones or the illegal ones? Who has a right to feel resentment? What is it that draws them all together?
The Czech Republic has undergone dramatic changes in the last two decades. Such changes bring tensions. This film is a way of addressing some of those tensions through a humorous look at the society at a very plebeian level. It looks at comic versions of ordinary people. To be sure, it exaggerates their personalities, but that is part of the comic nature.
Although it focuses on Czech society, the racism and xenophobia they deal with is not foreign to our society. As such Up and Down may serve as a chance for us to see the folly of our ways as well.