Once nominated for Palme d´Or* at Cannes´ film festival and later completely overshadowed by better known films of it´s director (especially Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), Jaromil Jireš´s feature debut The Cry is a typical film of so-called “Czech new wave” era. As many of those, it combines professional actors with non-actors, it´s focused on a life in then present time Czechoslovakia, and it´s rough visual style is inspired by documentaries.
Somewhat more intimate and less directly political than other films of this type, The Cry focuses on a relationship of a young married couple, expecting birth of their first child. While TV-repairman Slávek (Josef Abrhám) fares between his customers, he keeps trying to call to the maternity hospital where his wife Ivana (Eva Límanová) lies. For one reason or another, Slávek never gets the right number or has not enough time to make the important call and ask if he is already a father. Meanwhile, his wife wonders why he doesn´t call and if that could mean something. They are both thinking at each other, remembering moments from their past and questioning their future.
This is expressed by a more or less chronologically sorted line of flashbacks (mostly from Slávek´s perspective), constantly interrupting the present-day storyline. Besides it, there are some lyrical shots of trees accompanied by a fatal soundig Bach´s music, reportage shots of daily life in Prague, and also some slightly surreal blackouts as, for example, still frames of kids from some third world country, which altogether make The Cry more an subjective essay about lives, hopes and fears of certain people in certain time and place than a traditional plot-driven film.
Thanks to brilliant editing, it never gets messy and hard to follow as in some other films using this type of puzzle-building narrative (including Jireš´s own The Joke or And Give My Love to the Swallows). Each of the flashbacks or free associations adds some new little information about the leading couple´s relationship and it´s development.
Saying that, I must mention one (possibly entirely subjective) problem I had with this film. I strongly disliked Ivana. At first, she seemed to be only slightly neurotic (in the cute way of Diane Keaton in Woody Allen´s early comedies), immature and understandably nervous from her new mother-to-be situation. But with more and more flashbacks, it´s revealed that she is quite hysterical and self-centered woman, leaving whole burden of responsibility (for their money, flat, wedding, child) on Slávek, whom at the same time unpleasently often uses as a lightning rod for outbursts of her whimsicality.
Ivana´s behavior varies between giggly girlish sprightliness, female chauvinism (good old “All men are the same” mantra) and emotional blackmail (whenever Slávek has a different opinion on something, Ivana threatens she will quit the relationship). For the entire film, I was wondering if there is some purpose for this. Possibly some missing piece of flashback puzzle we don´t know yet, which at the end throws some new light on everything and proves that she´s maybe not such a selfish bitch, just some sort of mentally ill? Unfortunately, it´s not that case. Ivana is just a character spinning out of it´s creator´s control.
So, liking both of the protagonists equally was not easy to me and to be completely honest, part of me was even hoping that Slávek´s patience with this big spoiled child disguised as his wife will come to end. Part of the problem could be also the fact that Eva Límanová, who plays Ivana, was not really actress and whenever she is supposed to show some emotions, there is some sort of fakeness in the way she does. On the contrary, Josef Abrhám in one of his first leading roles was brilliant as always and considering the relative passivity and submissivity of Slávek, I was quite impressed how compact and believable character he built up out of such limited material.
Besides Abrhám´s empathetic creation, Jireš´s film is very valuable as a time-capsule of a certain time and space. He records Prague and it´s inner life from a more or less neutral point of view, which is quite different from both Czech New Wave (so often showing the ugliest possible aspects of the city/country in order to subliminally support the message about how living under communist rule sucks) and the communist propaganda show-offs (Prague/entire Czechoslovakia presented as a thriving place full of happy residents) as well.
*losing with Jacques Demy´s musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourgh