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CZECH MATES

UP AND DOWN ***

STARRING: Petr Forman, Emilia Vasaryova, Natasa Burger, Jan Triska, Vaclav Havel

DIRECTOR: Jan Hrebejk

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

RATING: R for language, sexual content and brief violence

THE LOWDOWN: Two loosely connected stories with themes of immigration and globalism in post-Communist Prague.

Sometimes, more isn't merrier.

Immigration is the problem facing two loosely connected circles of people living in post-Communist Prague in "Up and Down," the Czech Republic's 2005 Oscar entry. The film, and the cast, are full of Czech pride, with Petr Forman (son of director Milos Forman) playing a lead role and former President Vaclav Havel even making an appearance.

As the film opens, two smugglers driving a truck through the dark of night are stopped by police. The doors fly open, and illegal Indian immigrants scatter. Left behind is an infant in a box.

An infertile woman, Mila (Natasa Burger), has been longing for a baby, but her husband, Franta (Jiri Machacek), a thick-necked soccer hooligan, has a criminal record that prevents them from adopting. Mila uses their savings to buy the baby.

Meanwhile, a neat gentleman discussing the topic of immigration to a college class collapses. Later, a sophisticated blond woman and a teenager are told the man has a brain tumor.

The man, Oto (Jan Triska), tells the woman of his before-I-die wish: to divorce Vera, his first wife, and be reunited with his son, Martin.

Oto and his second family invite Vera (Emilia Vasaryova) and Martin (Forman) to their home -- the home, Vera testily reminds them, that was once hers. She now lives in a low-end apartment complex run over, she spits, with loud, smelly gypsies. Martin lives far way from his mother, in Australia.

The second "wife," Hana (Ingrid Timkova), works for a refugee services organization, which inflames Vera. She was dumped by her husband and forced to live in squalor, while the blond now lives in her lovely home and assists the illegal Asians and Africans, who many of the working class blame for all the social ills.

The racist Vera also can't understand why Martin lives in Australia and won't bring his wife or his 12-year-old son to visit.

Franta, meanwhile, decides he will no longer be a soccer fan, because his mates would never accept a South Asian child.

All the paranoia about "slants," Negroids and other offensive slurs colors everyone's judgment -- even from those who you wouldn't expect to display racist behavior.

Director Jan Hrebejk doesn't judge his characters, though -- not even when the pure-blooded white Czech meatheads cheer on their team with Nazi-inspired chanting and gestures.

As a small slice-of-life film, Hrebejk and his screenwriter, Petr Jarchovsky, show us a nation in transition and the human -- and sometimes petty -- foibles that accompany a global social revolution.

e-mail: ebarr@buffnews.com

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