By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire February 18, 2010 at 4:25AM
Appearing as part of Berlinale's Panorama Special lineup, Czech director Jan Hrebejk's "Kawasaki's Rose" (which indieWIRE contributor Shane Danielsen praised as a "find" in the festival) received its international premiere following its successful release last December in the Czech Republic. The film centers on a Czech family coming to terms with their communist past. Hreberjk is noted for being an extremely prolific director; for the past decade, he's cranked out a film a year. Though his film "Divided We Fall" was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar back in 2000, "Kawasaki's Rose" marks his first film to premiere at one of the big three European festivals. Derek Elley in his review for Variety notes: ""Rose" would easily have given some bloom to this year's Berlinale in a competition slot."
Danielsen concurs with Elley's assessment, offering that "Hrebejk has long been the most criminally neglected of major contemporary international filmmakers: a consummate director of actors, with a subtle but undeniable visual sense and an instinctive grasp of structure."
Of the film, David D'Arcy writes in his review for Screen Daily: "Despite some dramatic missteps, it enters troubling grey area in what is often viewed as a struggle of good against evil...The first Czech feature to confront the theme of informing and cooperating with the communist secret police may not have the box office impact of that 2006 German hit ['The Lives of Others'], but it should find a home on the festival and art-house circuit. Politicised viewers will welcome this dramatisation of the old regime’s skill at compromising its opponents, but the title, which says little about the film’s subject, doesn’t help spread the word."
Variety's Elley praises the film's ensemble performances as "topnotch." He goes on to write, "Despite tackling the weighty subject of Czechs coming to terms with their collaborationist past under communism, Hrebejk and Jarchovsky never let politics take precedence over characterization, producing an emotionally meaty family drama -- flecked with ironic moments -- that can easily connect at a human level with upscale offshore auds...Martin Sacha's widescreen lensing, sharply transferred from DV, and Ales Brezina's supportive score (mixing Philippe Sarde-like corrente rhythms with excerpts from Handel's opera 'Ariodante') are further pluses."
Marking a radical departure from the Czech drama's challenging subject matter, Patrick Hughes's "Red Hill", which also screened as part of Panorama's lineup, received a wildly varied mix of responses upon its world premiere at the fest. Billed on its poster with the tagline "Revenge Just Rode Into Town," the Australian film is a western/police procedural hybrid starring "True Blood"'s hunky Ryan Kwanten.
Though the film marks commercial director Hughes' first feature, Screen Daily's Jonathan Romney juxtaposes Hughes to an industry veteran in his gushing review: "In 1976, John Carpenter famously turned John Ford’s Western Rio Bravo into his thriller Assault On Precinct 13. Here Hughes reverses the process, folding a modern cop drama back into the iconography of the Western. He also retains some Carpenter-style pulpy elements – ample bloodshed, an apparently indestructible silent nemesis, plus lashings of atmospheric darkness. At times, the film skirts perilously close to predictability. But to see old-school conventions confirmed rather than subverted proves to be a source of much pleasure – and makes it all the more enjoyable when Hughes throws a witty curveball, as he does late in the film when a hugely incongruous deus ex machina stalks onto the scene."
Variety's Derek Elley doesn't share in the love, writing Hughes's film is "short on originality and sustained tension...The film's main problem -- aside from its paper-thin plot and lack of any real psychology -- is that Hughes doesn't adjust his style once the action clicks in. Only an hour in is there any sense of growing drama or tension, and even then the pacing remains sober when auds are restless for payback for their patience. This leaves time for viewers to contemplate such nagging questions as, where have the rest of the townsfolk have disappeared to? Absence of self-deprecating humor also takes the bite out of the movie references that pepper the pic -- to Leone's spaghetti Westerns (with the score belatedly slipping into Ennio Morricone mode) and any number of Stateside splatter movies. Performances are OK within the script's limitations."
Peter Brunette of The Hollywood Reporter agrees with Elley, stating: "This first feature demonstrates that 31-year-old Aussie director Patrick Hughes likes to be in control -- after all, he's listed as writer, director, editor, and producer -- and also that he's got a very good eye. The visuals in this Western from Down Under are always expressive and occasionally memorable, and Hughes seems to have a gift for knowing where to put the camera to accentuate his moody thriller. But visuals aren't everything, of course, and despite some semi-surprising twists near the end, "Red Hill" is weighed down and finally destroyed by too many cliches and a lack of clarity about what's being attempted."