Návrat idiota (The Return of the Idiot) (1999), directed by Saša Gedeon
Saša Gedeon´s subtle, sensitive, multilayered, mature film examines the relationship between generally accepted selfishness and the “otherness” represented by František, a young man returning to “normal” life after years spent in a psychiatric hospital. After several years of treatment, the psychiatric hospital has now released František into normal society, for the first time as an adult. As his doctor tells him and as František repeats several times in the film, “it would be absurd to go on trying to avoid life”. But what is Life?
Gedeon examines this by analysing the culture of young people, especially using the example of two sisters from one family and two brothers from another family. Immediately after entering life in a “normal” society the “idiot” František (as he is characterised by Emil, one of the young men František encounters) comes into conflict with cynical dishonesty, selfishness and mendaciousness.
On the train en route to the town where a distant relative of František lives, František (Pavel Liška) meets Anča (Anna Geislerová), who has almost missed the train, as she was, amorously, saying goodbye to young man Robert (Jiří Macháček). It turns out that Robert is married to someone else. When he arrives at the town where his aunt lives, František becomes an accidental witness to the fact that Robert´s brother Emil (Jiří Langmajer) who goes out with Anča, has spent the night with Anča´s younger sister Olga. The cold opportunism that people show in their relations with each other is underlined by the wintery, snowy landscape – it is ironic that at Christmas time, people should be friendly, humane, nice. But not even the frequently played Christmas carols manage to create such an atmosphere.
The cynically secretive amorous adventures and the selfish hypocrisy in the behaviour of the younger generation create a merry-go-round of lies, misunderstandings and faux pas, which the outsider František – seeing everything for the first time – tries to excuse and neutralise. František is innocent and decent – and very bright. He notices subtle things. He never does anything underhand. When he witnesses anyone´s particularly tragic moral failure, he starts bleeding from his nose.
It is paradoxical that František acts in a way which should be regarded as normal: he is tactful. He goes out of his way not to hurt people. He pleads with Olga not to tell her older sister that she has slept with Anča´s lover, because “that would hurt her terribly”. He is, however, probably wrong in this old-fashioned approach. Olga does not have any qualms and tells her sister everything. After an erotic adventure with Emil´s brother Robert Anna´s relationship with Emil is breaking up anyway. On New Year´s Eve, Anna tells Emil that she has decided to leave him. In response to this, Emil beats up František because he thinks that it was he who had told Anna about his erotic encounter with Olga.
It seems unlikely that either of the two brothers would ever free themselves from their narcissist cynicism. Maybe they are driven to behave like bastards, to take care of Number One, because otherwise they feel they would “miss something”. It is a free for all; you have to fight for your own interests. František, on the other hand, embodies selflessness, freedom of spirit, sincerity and decency.
Young women are more energetic, more full-blooded and sometimes more sensible than young men in Gedeon´s film. Even though there are exceptions to this rule: some episodic characters, girls at the local dancing classes do behave in a drunken, vulgar and aggressive way. They falsely accuse František that he had made “improper advances” to them and František is therefore excluded from the dance hall. At the end of the film they tell František that this is a practical joke they play on every newcomer – the conventional small town is thereby protecting itself from the “otherness” of the outside world. Robert and Emil are mere superficial ciphers. The only thing they are interested in is how to get a new girl into bed for a night. Robert wouldn´t mind if Anča continued to go out with Emil and also slept with him.
In the conflict between the amoral degeneration of small town culture and the value system of the innocent “saint” František, the sensitive and sincere “idiot” is victorious in the end: the film hints at the possibility of a happy end. First, though, it looks like failure – just as František arrived in the small town at the beginning of the film, he is about to leave it at its end. On New Year´s morning, František sits down in an unheated train and is ready to depart. But he has managed to pull one soul out from the all-encompassing cynicism – Olga comes to the station to look for him. František jumps out of the departing train and at the end of the film, the two young characters come together.
Gedeon´s film highlights the contrast between life without hypocrisy and selfishness on the one hand and the generally accepted merry-go-round of individualistic egoism. There is not a single word about politics. This is an analysis of interhuman relations which, in Gedeon´s view, are obviously the fundament of everything.