The topic of Kawasaki’s Rose, the first film to confront the ghosts of government collaboration in communist Czechoslovakia, may be new for Czechs, but otherwise it’s a familiar invocation of a problematically buried past. With its retinue of brilliant, beautiful people confronting a nation’s shared demons, it feels like a rote, if at times impressive, exercise in political exorcism.
This is not to suggest that it’s not rigorously committed to the ethical conundrum at is core. The story follows Pavel Josek (Martin Huba), a preeminent psychologist about to be awarded the “Memory of the Nation” medal, a national commendation for standing up to the rigors of the old regime. His past activities, however, were not entirely noble. Misdeeds inevitably come to light, dug up by a jealous son-in-law, but the film avoids melodrama, delving intelligently into questions about the solubility of guilt, whether one sin can be atoned for by a later sacrifice.
Yet as committed as it may be to a moral investigation, Kawasaki’s Rose, named after an origami design, isn’t well constructed enough to feel like a complete success. Ludek (Milan Mikulcík), the jealous son-in-law who stirs up the conflict, has no suggestion of an inner life; he’s all wobbly rage and impudent selfishness. He’s used here to set off a chain reaction, but it’s one he ultimately has no part in, dropping out of the story once his purpose has been served. This kind of narrative negligence might be acceptable in a busier movie, but in one so concerned with a careful sketching of its characters it feels like a blot.
Similarly clunky is the title character, apparently shoehorned in to add depth to the title. A Japanese artist exiled in Sweden, he hasn’t worked in years, drying up creatively after the loss of his wife and daughter, who were killed in Tokyo’s 1995 Sarin gas attack. He remains mostly silent, an exotically serene totem contemplating the world’s ills. Touches like this add a broadly ponderous edge to an otherwise sturdy film, one that exhibits a mostly deft, sometimes flat, handling of a familiar subject.