Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

It's Gonna Get Worse

  • Petr Nikolaev /
  • Czech Republic /
  • 2007 /
  • 86 mins

Karel Zídek, Filip Kankovsky, Tereza Hofová, Mirek Skultéty, Perla Kotmelová / Fiction / Czech

Bold, raw, uproarious portrait of youth adrift in 1970s Czechoslovakia.

Just released from a mental institution, Olin (Karel Zidek) joins his friends in the pub. They hail him with the nickname “loony”, and examine the deep scars on his wrists – but this wasn’t a suicide attempt, as we discover when one fellow drinker expresses a desire for similar injuries. “Get a razor and I’ll do it for you,” offers Olin. “But I’m scared,” protests the friend. “Then do your military service,” is the blunt response.

It’s the late 1970s in Communist Czechoslovakia, and Olin and his friends are constantly threatened with an institutionalised life. Their choices consist of performing military service for a system in which they have no faith, taking a spell in jail for refusing it, or feigning insanity in order to get sectioned instead. Always on the run, they dedicate their stolen moments of freedom to hedonistic pursuits. Rebels though they are, however, their group behaviour reveals the need for structure – for their own forms of protocol and ritual. They have their own battle hymns, which celebrate the pleasures of alcohol and opiates; they invent a wedding ceremony (“Love each other till death or the next nick”); they hijack a funeral to ensure that it plays out as they see fit. Like most young people, they’re anxious to believe in something, but they have good reasons to suspect the restrictions imposed by a belief system and so they opt for none. The striking observation here is that repressive regimes foster neither loyalty nor resistance, but apathy: these kids are apolitical because the whole concept of ideology has failed them. They know what they’re against – “all that Commie crap” – but not what they’re for. One of their number dresses as Hitler and leads them in a “sieg heil!”; but when they discover that their hobo friend “Wild Man” flew an Allied bomber during World War II, they embrace him as a hero, and perform an impromptu chorus of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

Based upon a legendary cult novel by Jan Pelc, which was widely distributed in photocopied form by enterprising Czech teens upon its publication in 1983, Petr Nikolaev’s film is a raw but touching portrait of the joys, dangers and contradictions of life in a late-Communist state. Most impressive of all is the cinematography: though it was shot on 16mm newsreel stock by a largely student crew, the film looks extraordinarily beautiful, combining elegance and grit in a manner that precisely fits its narrative blend of the elegiac and the crude.
Hannah McGill

2007 Archive

Image from It's Gonna Get Worse

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