UP AND DOWN (Jan Hrebejk). 108 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 25). For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Immigrant smugglers. A barren woman desperate for a child. A surfing photographer. Soccer hooligans. A family reunion. The plot lines in Czech director Jan Hrebejk 's Up And Down bump up against each other like Scrabble tiles in a bag, a mishmash that finally resolves itself into something readable.
Mila ( Natasa Burger ), the infertile woman, buys a baby left in the smugglers' truck because Franta ( Jirí Machácek ), her soccer hooligan boyfriend, has a criminal record that prevents them from adopting. The photographer, Martin ( Petr Forman , son of Milos), returns to the Czech Republic from Australia to see his ailing father and meet the sister his ex-girlfriend gave him when she shacked up with Dad.
The inspiration Hrebejk says he drew from Steven Soderbergh's Traffic is obvious, not just in the multiple story lines, but also in the use of handheld cameras and colour filters to set different moods.
Burger gives the most compelling performance. Her overwhelming need for a child is terrifying to watch, a warning to mothers everywhere to put car alarms on their strollers.
This snapshot of ordinary people reveals the tensions of a reborn country still trying to find its feet. Only Franta's story falls a little flat. His soccer fever is tied up with racist, nationalist feelings that are put to the test when his new, Indian-born baby arrives on the scene, but these conflicting emotions aren't fully explored.