Review: Jiří Menzel's DON JUANS Lacks Plot But Not Affection For Opera
Even big directors need a break. Jiří Menzel, the Academy Award winning Czech director, was on one as it had been over 7 years since his last film, I Served the King of England (he's only made 3 features in the last 20 years). It seems he is in a holiday mode even in his freshest feature, Don Juans, which he not only directed but has also written. Menzel belongs among the Czech directorial big shots from the 60s, along Miloš Forman and Věra Chytilová, and is well-known for adapting the literary works of Bohumil Hrabal. That´s why it came as a surprise that he was shooting a raunchy comedy under the working title The Skirt Chasers.
One of the most memorable scenes, or mostly the
talked about, in I Served the King of
England was the one with nubile girls in a pool sardonically accompanied by the drooling of an old man. Well, this is the cue for his latest film
distinguished also by a lot of nipple shots.
Don Juans, as the title suggests, tries to dissect male vice in a rural opera company, but viewers can also figure this out also by witnessing the vocalizing montage of orgasms that the film features. They all happen in the bedroom of an elderly opera director Vítek who confesses on camera, that he actually hates operas, but loves sopranos. The film is being marketed in the Czech Republic as a lascivious comedy about passion for life, music and women -- of course.
The main plot revolves around a new production of the opera of operas, Mozart´s Don Giovanni. The scenes of preparation for its grand premiere interweave with scenes from the private life of the protagonist who convinced his old friend to cross the Atlantic Ocean only to perform in his version of the Viennese maestro's seminal work. And yes, even his retired friend remains a big womanizer in old age. Chasing soprano´s skirts even with one foot in the grave evolves on a sort of leitmotif.
As a counterpart, Markétka enters the scene, an elderly teacher directing children's opera. She also hates opera because an old bass tenor flame left her pregnant. Her daughter and granddaughter share the very same fate in three generations of single mothers. The lonesome lady serves mostly as a moralizing element rather than valid character developing in her own storyline.
Not much happens during 102 minutes except several accidental encounters of the two protagonists and minor characters, limb gags and gerontophilia laced pearls of wisdom. The characters are stigmatized by arrested development, major twists occur without apparent reason and plot vacuum deepens incrementally. The whole communal comedy dip surprises even when the director is no stranger to rural comedic poetics, but Don Juans misses the impeccable charm of Menzel's 1985 film My Little Village. After all, neither the first nor the second storyline nor the characters matter.
Menzel did several theatre and opera productions and the experience pays off as he really knows how to stage impressive opera. If not the visuals, the soundtrack pumped with Mozart, Smetana and Dvořák will definitely seal the deal notwithstanding the beautiful arias scattered throughout the film.
The subliminal massage about opera as the queen of arts amazingly supersedes swarms of naked boobs. This niche as a lascivious rural comedy is only a ruse to lure people into the cinema and enlighten them and to teach the masses about the grace of opera. Don Juans can be easily regarded as a publicity stunt to uproot the widely spread notion about operas causing comatose sleep due their unbearable tedium.
The film ends once again ignoring the inner
causality yet with a raised finger to deliver at least a bit of a meaningful moral
message about bad people devouring good culture just to satisfy their personal
perversions of money hoarding. That´s still feels a bit redundant and alibistic,
because opera is the main character, plot and message here.
Don Juans opened in the Czech Republic on September 26.