Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Up and Down

(Horem pádem, Czech Republic, 2004)

Two guys are filling a truck with gas, and discussing what they’d eat and what they wouldn’t eat. Mice are discussed, and rats, and horses. One says he went to Thailand and bought something that smelled real good being deep fried. Couldn’t tell what it was, but he was eating and liking it, and the vendor opened his box and dipped something in batter, and it was a bat. “I nearly vomited!” Pause. “What did it taste like?” And Lee, sitting beside me on the couch, says, “Like chicken!” And the guy says, “Like Colonel Saunders Kentucky fried chicken.”

A little moment like that right up front can make all the difference. It’s Pulp Fiction dialogue, and we know this is going to be a quirky film. The guys are smuggling people in their truck. They stop in the middle of nowhere on a dark road, and in the angry chaos of unloading, an infant is left behind in a box. I figure this will be like Tokyo Godfathers, where these tough guys learn some humanity by caring for the baby. But this movie never goes where you expect. They sell the baby to one of those crazy, barren women who take kids out of hospitals in their desperation. And then …

We meet an odd family, learn about their problems. This story intertwines with the first, sort of, but plot is not hugely important here. What matters is characters, and the actors nail them. There is a theme running though it all, that of displaced persons, politically, economically, and emotionally. But the director is not out to make statements, he just wants you to see these people, and he does a wonderful job of it.