Autumn Spring (2001)

“Old men should be rich and respected.”

Autumn Spring is a marvelous Czech film that explores the relationship of Fanda and Emilie–an elderly Czech couple. Fanda and Emilie are opposites in many ways. Fanda is happy-go-lucky and open to all sorts of new experiences ( he’s learning French, for example). His wife, Emilie, on the other hand is obsessed with planning their funerals, and she even rather morbidly suggests that they clean and maintain their future burial spot. Fanda and Emilie don’t have much money, and they live in a cramped flat. Their selfish son, Jara, can’t wait to get his hands on the flat by moving his parents into a old-people’s home.

Fanda–a former actor hangs around with his old friend, Eda, and the two get into all sorts of trouble together. They concoct schemes that involve deception of others. The schemes can be fairly harmless–for example, at one point Eda and Fanda pose as ticket inspectors. But sometimes the schemes are far more complicated and potentially damaging, and one of these schemes leads Fanda to ‘borrow’ money from his wife’s funeral savings.

I was extremely impressed by this film. On the surface, the film deals with the husband and wife’s squabbles about money, and the husband’s refusal to face his death. Fanda’s personality is refreshing and charming, and yet at the same time, some of the games he plays are rather anti-social. Fanda capitalizes on his age to further his schemes, but he also risks being labeled incompetent and perhaps being deprived of his small freedoms. The film also examines the institution of marriage, and it does an excellent job of portraying the balance of power within the relationship. These two elderly people are still hashing out fundamental issues of control–Fanda’s smoking for example, and it’s clear that Fanda’s antics are his attempt to maintain a little independence while wiggling from his wife’s control. Unfortunately when Fanda’s schemes go out-of-control, Emilie is swift to wield her winning hand, punish, and exact control.

Another thing that impressed me so much about the film were the characters of Fanda and Eda. When confronted with reality (the truth), they never lost a beat, were never flummoxed and simply expanded their schemes. I found this quite fascinating.

I almost didn’t rent this film. I read the cover several times while trying to decide if Autumn Spring was going to be an awful sort of sentimental film–it certainly looked as though the story could be a tearjerker. But the film was much better (and darker) than that. This was not a syrupy sweet “Hallmark” film about how two old people face their deaths. The script was clever, the characters fascinating, and the acting quite superb. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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