The Lover (1991)

“With you, everything forbidden is irresistible.”

The film The Lover (AKA Milena) is a depiction of the turbulent life of Czech journalist Milena Jesenska. The daughter of a prominent doctor, Milena (Valerie Kaprisky) was outspoken, resilient, and headstrong. When the film begins, it’s the 1920s, and Milena is a young girl who lives under her father’s controlling thumb. Dr. Jesenska (Stacy Keach) is a respected surgeon and a professor at Prague University. Milena is his only child, and he’s decided that he wants her to follow in his footsteps and enter the medical profession too. But Milena has ambitions of her own–she wants to write, and she’s drawn to the artistic crowd in Prague.

The film follows Milena’s life–her marriage to the Jewish music critic Ernst Pollak (Peter Gallagher), her meeting and subsequent troubled relationship with Franz Kafka (Philip Anglim), and her career as a journalist and translator. Milena eventually meets and marries the communist architect, Jaromir (Nick Mancuso) and begins writing for various communist papers. Milena’s political articles drew attention from the Gestapo, and her efforts to save Jews through underground resistance groups led to her deportation to Ravensbruck.

Directed by Vera Belmont, the film does a good job of creating Milena’s character, and within a few scenes it’s clear to the viewer that she’s a woman who will not bend to expediency. Milena’s story plays against the backdrop of ever-increasing persecution of the Jews, and this is handled very well. However, large portions of the film play more like a cheesy epic soap than anything else. Some of the acting is spotty, and parts of the film are ponderous. While some characters have extremely thick accents (Milena, for example) American actors play the roles of Ernst and Dr. Jesenska. This creates unevenness in the film. Milena Jesenska’s story is composed of grand elements, but unfortunately, it doesn’t get the treatment it deserves here.

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