Going through his father’s phone, Martin (Martin Pechlat) laughs at the numbers listed under the names of birds. Are they sex workers or mistresses? What did his father do? He composes some of them to try to find out. His excuse for inspecting the phone is that he’s trying to get up to speed as the acting head of electronics manufacturing company Aron, but his cruelty while his father lies in a hospital bed illustrates rot at the heart of the family, matched by turmoil within the business itself.
Despite his success in building the company, Ivo (Miroslav Donutil) has been in poor health for some time and has failed to keep up with everything. He hung on because he doesn’t believe his children are fit to inherit the role, and you can see why – yet it’s under his watch that, Martin finds, the company has racked up debts of 14 million Kč (around £473,000 at the time of writing). The money was apparently embezzled. An investigation begins and suspicion falls on Marie (Alena Mihulova), the secretary whom Ivo considered his most trusted ally.
What could drive a woman like her to do such a thing? She seems more restrained and responsible than anyone in Ivo’s family, but love doesn’t matter. Every once in a while we veer away from the Czech corporate world of glass, metal and polished stone to gritty images of soldiers traversing a desert landscape, as Marie longs for the object of her love to return to the House. It’s the only part of the film in which one of the characters shows genuine concern for someone else, but in this dark satire, even that can’t be trusted. Director/co-writer Olmo Omerzu takes turns packing, and while not all of it will be easy to believe, overall, there’s plenty for fans of this material to chew on.
Commenting on all this, and sometimes trying to communicate urgently with Ivo, who cannot understand them, various birds live in the trees outside the hospital and sometimes appear elsewhere. If you know anything about bird calls, you’ll find the experience confusing, a bit like watching parodies of Downfall if one speaks German, but it’s still an idea with some merit. They discuss the country’s economic fortunes and what’s happening in the stock market in a way that provides some grim laughs for Czech viewers. It reminds us that business leaders don’t necessarily have a brilliant vision not shared by the masses (Maria seems to understand Aron at least as well as his bosses) and it keeps us alert to the bigger picture that Ivo and its future heirs, narrowly focused on the specifics of their company’s problems, forget too easily.
There’s a dryness to this comedy drama that sometimes drags it out, but Omerzu breaks with it to great effect in places when he’s ready to deliver contrasting scenes of a highly emotional, character-driven drama. Towards the end, a spectacularly bitter birthday party is one of the film’s high points. It gives Donutil the chance to show viewers new to his work what he’s capable of, bringing the full weight of his acting experience as his character puts the next generation in his shoes. The shifts in perspective created by a changing culture are well-defined without relying too much on stereotypes, but in a business-first family, forgiveness is as rare as chicken teeth.
Opinion left on: March 04, 2022