A black and white, rotoscoped, drama from the Czech Republic. Well you certainly haven’t seen this before. This very sombre film from debut filmmaker Tomás Lunák recalls the dazzling visual style of Christian Volckman’s 2006 French action noir, Renaissance, but a plot that appears to move as slowly as molasses proved to be a bit too much to bear for my tired eyes so late in the festival. Knowing so little about Czech history is certainly a hindrance to enjoying this film beyond the purely visual, but Alois Nebel begins so promisingly with an intense border-crossing sequence that it’s hard not to be slightly disappointed that it didn’t live up to the early potential.
Alois Nebel works as at a quiet train station on the Czechoslovakian border region known as Sudetenland in the 1980s. His encounter with a mute stranger who may or may not be out for revenge sets forth a series of events that sends him to a sanatorium, to Prague, and back into the fog to confront his war demons head on. Based on a series of graphic novels by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromír 99, Alois Nebel deals with the history of the forced expulsion of Germans from post-war Czechoslovakia, a cruel twist in the already shameful existence of WWII. This lesser-known element of the war will surely be a bit too region specific to hold much broad interest, so I guess it’s a good thing Lunák utilised the impressive, albeit time-extensive, rotoscoping technique to keep weary eyes watching.
However, no amount of dazzling animation can stop the film from being frustratingly unmoving. It’s all a very lowly affair that (deliberately, I assume) doesn’t go for easy thrills or emotional hooks. Scenes that should have weight come off as vague or unimportant. The story of Alois Nebel as a character isn’t translated particularly memorably in this adaptation, as he is rendered so vacant that I can’t even imagine how the original graphic novels were a full trilogy. Alois Nebel is a film to be quietly admired and respected, but one that is ultimately too far removed from its subject to engage.
Alois Nebel will be released through Madman Films in 2012/2013