In the U.S., the popular meaning of some historical events has shifted gradually over time, and the reputations of political figures as disparate as Joe McCarthy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have changed depending on which party is in power and what narrative is dominant in the mass media. But in Europe—particularly Eastern Europe—the upheavals have been more dramatic, as successive waves of war and revolution have turned ordinary Joes from “that heroic individual who stood up for the ideals of communism” to “that weasely jerk who sold out his neighbors to cover his ass.” In Kawasaki’s Rose, directed by Jan Hrebejk and scripted by Petr Jarchovský, Milan Mikulcík plays a TV sound man who learns that venerated Czech dissident Martin Huba may have collaborated with the police during the communist era, as part of a scheme to screw over a romantic rival. This matters to Mikulcík for a couple of reasons: firstly because Huba is his father-in-law, and has always projected an irritatingly haughty attitude, and secondly because Mikulcík is on the outs with his wife Lenka Vlasáková because he slept with a co-worker while Vlasáková was undergoing cancer treatments. If Mikulcík exposes Huba, it’ll wreck his in-laws, but it’ll also show Vlasáková that no one is above shitty behavior when driven by desire.
That’s a powerful theme for Kawasaki’s Rose to explore, illustrating how it may be hard to judge historical events as they’re happening, but it’s even harder in retrospect, removed from the immediate circumstances. The problem with Kawasaki’s Rose is that the theme is far more compelling than the movie. Hrebejk and Jarchovský have made a very talky film, free of flashbacks, where people mainly just describe or explain old events. The actual plot happened decades ago; now, everyone’s just hashing out the consequences. The structure of Kawasaki’s Rose suits its subject matter in some ways, in that these characters have conflicting memories of their shared histories, complicated by the positive results of some of their blunders. But Hrebejk and Jarchovský blunder themselves by reducing the significance of the present-day, treating it as a mere outcome of past actions. Isn’t it possible that what’s happening to this family right now could be just a much a source of ever-evolving shame and pride in the decades to come? Is it too much to ask that the filmmakers make contemporary life just a little bit dramatic?