Wednesday, 8 October 2014

At the LFF: "Fair Play"

Fair Play, an impressive drama from Czech writer-director Andrea Sedláčková, takes us back behind the Iron Curtain; it tells a story about creeping state influence that anyone who watched sports in the 1980s will have had some inkling of, but probably won't have seen dramatised as skilfully and engagingly as it has been here. Its heroine Anna (Judit Bárdos) is a promising 200m runner in her early teens who's selected by the Czech authorities to enter a doping program intended to boost the country's visibility at the 1984 Olympics. After suffering health problems, she decides to halt the daily injections required of her - but that decision comes to place her nearest and dearest in jeopardy.

This ripple effect relies upon some supple secondary characterisation: take Anna's mother (Anna Geislerová), a former tennis pro reduced to mopping floors as a result of the men around her, and now determined to do everything possible to give her daughter a better life, or meek training partner Marina (Eva Josefíková), who persists with the steroids and acquires a new-found (yet short-lived) confidence. Somewhere in here, there are traces of The Lives of Others, and its particular fascination with hardline Communism's ability to infiltrate interior spaces. Yet where that film laid siege to its characters' hearts, Sedlackova turns her focus upon the state's impact on the rest of the body: Anna finds herself faced with suddenly sprouting body hair, a steroidal side effect shrugged off by others as a normal part of adolescence.

Towards the end, there's a slight narrative wrong turn, as Anna's predicament is overtaken by her mother's attempts to conceal a manuscript - at which point Fair Play starts to resemble a tinny recap of its lauded German predecessor. Sedlackova fares substantially better when she stays on or around the track, and not just because it allows her to cultivate a distinctive aesthetic out of the world's greyest sports arenas: Anna's running comes to seem like a bid for freedom, and one shot of her hopelessly acquiescent coach (Roman Luknar) surreptitiously switching vitamin B shots for steroids so he knows his flighty charge will take the supplements gives us a palpable sense of the horrible personal compromise required just to function in any such state.

Fair Play screens tomorrow (Thu 9) at 6.15pm in NFT2, and again on Sat 11 at 1pm at the Ritzy. 

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