Jízda (The Ride), 1994, directed by Jan Svěrák
This "cult" Czech movie can be interpreted as a generational statement about the predicament of thirty-year-olds who had reached maturity under "really existing socialism" (communism) in Czechoslovakia and were outsiders within that regime. They remain helpless and without being able to act in the post-communist society. Exactly because they are the children of "normalisation" (the 1970s and the 1980s, a period of stagnation, which followed after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion and the subsequent political clampdown), they lack "assertiveness" and "aggression", which is needed in the "new times".
The age around thirty tends to be a time of personal disillusionment. This was felt particularly strongly under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. At thirty you realised that your job was a prison and that you would not be able to do anything meaningful unless you collaborated politically with the regime. The anarchism and freedom of your younger years were gone: The thirty-year old man had to support his family, at home he was yelled at by his overworked and neurotic wife. Only the last ideal still remained – and even this one was now difficult to achieve – an escape to a hiking trip, to the magic, healing, hot Czech countryside in summer.
Both heroes of Jízda, Franta a Radek, are examples of these disillusioned thirty-year-olds. They are trying to escape life in the new post-communist society, in which they obviously cannot find a proper job (they do not even have money to purchase a real car) and go back to the time when they were around twenty. into a road movie, just for a few days. An idyll has always been a salvation to Czechs in trouble, since the times of Božena Němcová´s national classic, the novel Babička (Granny) (1855). They want to pretend that they are not "old" and want to indulge in the magic of the hot summer countryside. Their journey through the hot sunny days in the South Bohemian countryside is to have a therapeutic effect on them. The beauty of the countryside is for Czechs a typical palliative for all their insoluble problems.
But of course, imitating an endless "coast-to-coast" ride, which can take place in the United States, in terms of South Bohemia is absurd – in the small Czech Republic, you reach the border in any direction within several hours. The protagonists cannot go abroad because the vehicle which they have obtained at a scrap yard does not have papers. And, anyway, bursting out from the Czech environment would be inappropriate at this stage – the heroes need the experience of escaping from everyday life, but they need to stay within their own native country. They have problems assimilating this experience, the outside world would be too much.
The protagonists decide that they will only travel on minor roads (i.e.: their existence is inauthentic, the world does not accept it, they are not independent, fully-fledged members of society who can ride on any roads. They are marginalised) – because they do not have documents for the car. They compensate for their helplessness by pretending, playing a game. However, the film warns that the palliative effect of Jízda is false. Yet the only possible solution is playing games out of time since the protagonists are emasculated as a result of what they had experienced. So, no matter how we look at it, the protagonists remain at a dead end – what remains is just the temporary illusion of the beautiful summer.
Franta and Radek do a "good deed" at the beginning of the film (they give a short lift to an old lady with a rake, going from the fields back to the village) and so they receive a "reward" – they find a girl, Aňa, a provocative erotic symbol, at a roadside in the forest. Using her sixth sense, Aňa knows immediately that both men desire her (Franta is trying to control himself, he is married), but they are powerless, they simply do not dare to court her properly. Aňa flirts with both of them outrageously all the time because it is clear to her that nothing will happen. "You are not up to this," she says to Radek at one point.
The changes in contemporary life in the Czech Republic taking place before the eyes of the "aging young men" are out of control and unstoppable. Radek reads a newspaper and is surprised that journalists now measure the scale of things using a credit card – until now, they used to use a matchbox! Such a matchbox with a sign Made in Czechoslovakia is brutally discarded at the end of the film. This may mean that that Czechoslovakia, in which both men have grown up, no longer exists, it has become an alien society. It can also mean that Franta and Radek are resigned to the fact that it might ever be possible for them to integrate within the new society.
Instead, they just play games – they pretend that they are in a road movie, they pretend that they are trying to seduce the girl, they pretend that they have robbed a bank, that they have broken into someone´s second home in the country. (Radek, once he entres the house, hides his own photograph – the cottage is his.) They want to look like grown-up, real men, but they don´t know how to be such characters. Jízda´s protagonists belong to the gallery of useless Czech "vagrant outsiders". To engage with life in the new era would mean to be like Honzík, Aňa´s lover who pursues them along the South Bohemian roads in a luxury, expensive and modern black car. Honzík is a successful, agressive enterpreneur – Aňa says of him, "He takes what he wants".
But, the film warns in conclusion, engaging in the aggressive behaviour in the "new society" is not a solution. At the end of the film, Franta and Radek see a car accident. (Fatal road accidents are frequent in the Czech Republic.) Aňa and Honzík are dead. Aňa has tried to repeat, in Honzík´s car, the risky action which had worked on a previous occasion – to lock the steering wheel and let the car run downhill out of gear. In an illusion, in a fairytale with two men who live in a bubble of unreality, it was possible to do this. In the world of assertive businessman´s actions a risky deed leads to death, warns Jízda, a film which studies certain aspects of male and female mentality and is a general statement on futility and the value of escape.