Accommodation and resistance. A cynical adaptation blending to outright futile rebellion. It is said to be a peculiar triangle, the one formed between Munich, Prague and Vienna, the one responsible for among others, Kafka, Freud and Hitler and the late Vaclav Havel. A sort of Bermuda triangle bridging Western and Eastern Europe, the bottom of which is filled with sunken dreams and unfulfilled desires where historically, compromises on principles have generated horrible results. A seemingly bad blend of inertia, loyalty and vague optimism that things will work out makes Markek Najbrt’s Protektor film a complex narrative of the self-absorbed veering far from the simple Hollywood morality tale.
It also reveals the extent to which collaboration undermines self-respect. Within the present context, the there has been a complete dismantlement of the social democratic ideal replaced by Western neo-liberalism behind which either free-market reforms or protectionism lurks the old right wing authoritarian guard enacting a vision of a more benign capitalism than compared to say the Congo but nonetheless imbued with the same populist tribalism that welcomed Germany into the Sudetenland.
…His wife Hana is a film actress who is thoroughly assimilated to Czech society and growing increasingly tired of marriage. When we first meet her, she is arranging her next tryst with her co-star, a Jewish actor in his middle ages who has begun to worry about Nazi intentions….
The film begins just after the infamous Chamberlain “peace in our time” treaty with Hitler that ceded Sudetenland to Germany. Even before Germany gains total control over Czechoslovakia, there are signs of growing Nazi influence, including at Emil’s radio station where a boorish German national has just become manager. When they first meet, the manager tells Emil that he was an athlete when young as well—a boxer. A few months later at a drunken office party, he puts on his boxing gloves that he keeps in the office and demands that Emil put on a pair as well. After Emil allows his boss to throw a few jabs, he throws a haymaker and knocks him out. From this moment on, we realize that Emil is willing to put up with Nazi authoritarianism but only so far.
Eventually the Nazis take over and begin turning Czechoslovakia into a clone of Germany with all sorts of laws that seem not much different from Jim Crow in the South around the same time. Restaurants and movie theaters post signs announcing that Jews are not allowed. The film is historically accurate, at least according to the version of European history found in Arno Mayer’s “Why the Heavens Did not Darken”. Mayer’s thesis is that until German reversals on the Russian front, the suffering of Jews—considerable as it was—did not differ drastically from that of Blacks in the Deep South….
…Emil’s reaction to the Nazi crackdown is to protect his wife as much as possible, which means at a certain point keeping her a virtual prisoner in their apartment. Given her free spiritedness, it is not surprising that they begin to clash over this. She is willing to risk arrest as long as she can spend time on the streets, especially with her close friend, a projectionist at a nearby movie theater who is an opium addict. Given her despair over a marriage that begins to resemble house arrest and the Nazification of Czech society, it is understandable that she would begin to share the needle with the projectionist even if she declines his offer to have sex….
…Emil shows no signs of defying Nazi rule and even accepts a promotion to take the job of a top reporter who has been caught carrying out small acts of resistance. When he meets up later to both apologize to the man as well as defend himself (the Nazis would not allow him to turn down the promotion), we have an epiphany into the character of the men and women who became part of the Nazi machine. As Christopher Browning put it in his study of the working class men who became concentration camp guards, these were “ordinary men”.
My first thoughts about the film’s title were that Emil was his wife’s protector, a title that had some irony since his protection was tantamount to keeping her a prisoner. I eventually learned that the title was a reference to Reinhol
ydrich, the German occupation enforcer who was also called “the protector”. The climax of the film draws the characters into the historical events surrounding Heydrich’s assassination and in keeping with the film’s subtlety there are no heroes, only people seeking to keep a shred of honor about them in a society that has descended into hell.
As a film, “Protektor” is a real breakthrough. Even more significantly, it marks a kind of renaissance of Czech film after a long period of stagnation under the impact of capitalist restoration. One hopes that intelligent directors such as Marek Najbrt will begin to turn their attention to a contemporary society that is showing the same kinds of strains that were dramatically represented in his film.Read More:http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/protektor/
Leonard Quart:Emil, though far from a hero, gradually becomes repelled with his role as Nazi spokesman. The film concludes with Hana joining other Jews in a transport that will take her to the concentration camps; Emil, who has gone to look for her on his bike, stands impassively in their way, as German soldiers club him to the ground. Protektor offers no happy ending, and no Czech resistance heroes to emulate—the young men who kill Heydrich play a marginal role in the film, and a subplot involving Emil and a stolen bicycle diminishes the significance of the act. The Czechs have never been believers in martyrdom.
What grants the film special interest are its arresting, almost indelible surfaces—bleached-color cinematography with noirish shadows, and the black-and-white, semi-abstract interludes that see the characters furiously peddling their bikes to some nameless destination. The film opens with a highly stylized montage of bicycle chains, spokes, and gears. A pedal-powered score then wheels the audience into the year 1942. These repetitive images serve as a metaphor for people like Emil and Hana, who struggle to find some direction but basically are going nowhere.
What’s most striking about the film is its ironic view of a repressive murderous world, depicted in ambiguous rather than Manichean terms. It’s a view that can be seen, with historical variations, in other contemporary Czech films, like Jan Hřebejk’s Kawasaki’s Rose. In Protektor all the major characters are flawed, but only Heydrich and the Nazis are evil, and they play a peripheral role. The Czechs fumble about, trying in varied ways to deal with the occupation, some less craven and accommodating than others. But the film doesn’t moralize—Emil is not a monster, but just a weak person who finds his new status briefly intoxicating. People might betray themselves and each other, but in this film, their humanity lingers.Read More:http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=515
…When we talk about 1989 and November 17, we saw it here as the end of the totalitarian state and a return of democracy. In your book, you refer to the events of 1989 as an ‘obscure catastrophe’ – is it the right term?
Zizek: “No, no. Let me be very clear here. In my own country, I participated in those events. I have no nostalgia for 20th century communism. That’s why I ironically refer to Lenin who wrote a nice text about defeat. He said, ‘It’s like climbing a mountain: if you’re stuck, you have to go down to the very beginning and start anew’. This is what the left has to do today. While I fully sympathize with your Velvet Revolution, the problem is this gap. People expected something – justice, solidarity, freedom, dignity – but of course we didn’t get it. We can now read this gap in two ways: the official way says this is simply a question of maturity; people expected too much and now we have to learn what capitalism is. But the fact that even people in developed countries are now more and more dissatisfied suggests there is something wrong with global capitalism. And this maybe allows us to say that the fight of the Velvet Revolution goes on, it’s not over.
Wall Street protesters in Los Angeles, photo: CTKWall Street protesters in Los Angeles, photo: CTK “When people accuse me of communist nostalgia, I say, ‘no, look at the example of China’. Isn’t that a wonderfully ironic reply to Fukuyama? Capitalism won but it looks today as if the best managers of capitalism are communists, much more efficient than Western liberal democrats. And that’s what worries me.” Read More:http://www.radio.cz/en/section/one-on-one/slovenian-philosopher-slavoj-zizek-on-social-unrest-fall-of-communism-and-milos-forman-films …
…“I think the mistake is not in what your president, Václav Klaus, claims if I understand him correctly. By the way, you know who your president is – the guy in front of whom it’s not safe to leave your pen. He claims Europe is too strong but Europe was not conceived as a strong enough entity. We now have two alternate visions of Europe. The Europe of a purely technocratic union of the Brussels type, or a conservative counter-attack with stronger national identities and so on. I think that what opened up the space for this anti-immigrant populist nationalist trend is precisely that Europe was defined by those in power in too purely technocratic terms.
“Europe should not only be economy; it should also embody a certain radical emancipatory potential. As I like to say, the big choice of today is, to put it bluntly, either Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism, or what we poetically call capitalism with Asian values which means authoritarian capitalism. Frankly, I wouldn’t like to live in the world where this is the only choice. In Europe, weak as it is, maybe there is still hope that something new, some new vision of a society neither neoliberal nor authoritarian, will emerge.” ( ibid.)