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Faithless Games
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by Chris Parry

"Despite the Shannon Tweed-like title, a compelling human drama."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One of the real highlights of any good international film festival is that the event will bring you movies that you might otherwise never have seen, either because they are too edgy, too foreign, too uncommercial or too small. Sometimes such films are better left unseen, but more often than not the mere fact that a film is from a part of the world that isn't often represented on our screens is more than enough reason to buy a ticket; for example, a straight to video slasher flick from California isn't nearly as interesting as a straight to video slasher flick from Gabon. In the case of Faithless Games you have a film featuring a terrible title and an uncompelling premise, which might normally be grounds to ignore the film altogether... but it is a film from the Czech Republic, and how often does one of those come around?

Faithless Games is the kind of movie title you expect to find next to 'Fateful Obsession' and 'Faith and Bondage' on the direct-to-video rack at your local unnamed corporate mega-video rental warehouse. You'd expect the cover to feature some statuesque blonde who can't act, shot from behind with no shirt on, while a priest stands before her tugging at his collar and wondering whether he should slip in a bit of the sacrament. The film would, presumably, be rated R, and feature many people with perfect hair having sex in the shower with their boobs pressed up against steam-covered glass. It would also, presumably, rent well to the single male 16-35 demographic.

But Faithless Games is not an erotic drama, though it does feature a little eroticism, and even a bit of the dramatic stuff. It isn't a titilation flick, despite the fact that I can admit to having been titilated by it at various stages.

No, Faithless Games is about a man and a woman who make a living playing piano... Seriously.

Okay, not entirely seriously. They do make their living plunking keys, but what's more important is that they're trapped in a marriage that is becoming more and more loveless. In an effort to keep her husband Peter (Peter Bejak) happy, Eva (Zuzana Stivinova) agrees to move out with him to a small town, where the two can live in peace and quiet and Peter can compose in peace. Eva isn't exactly down with this way of thinking, being as she'll have to leave her own career as an orchestral musician in the big city to make the shift happen, but she figures she can make ends meet by teaching the local kids piano.

Of course, when one side of a couple puts their life on hold for the pleasure of the other, things can tend to get nasty, and in Eva and Peter's case it serves to imbalance the relationship to Peter's favor. When he become surly, disagreeable and starts to seclude himself in his own world of headphoned music, Eva descends into depression, which isn't helped by the unwelcome neighbors who have decided to basically squat on their property.

But Eva isn't one to turn into a housefrau without a fight, and the seductive eye of a visiting musician sees her begin to turn the tables on her man in ways that reawaken her feminity, strength and allure, while throwing that relationship imbalance back the other way.

If nothing else, Faithless Games does a spectacular job of demonstrating exactly how easy it is to upset the balance of a relationship. With one bold move, Peter goes from ogre to cuckold, while eva goes from frumpy homemaker to seductive woman of the world, and the entire focus of a long term relationship changes as a result. Why do people in bad relationships go so long without fighting back for their own peace of mind, and why do those that hold 'hand' misuse that hand so readily? Faithless Games won't answer those questions, but it sure as heck asks them well, and the lead performance by Zuzuana Stinova is worth the price of admission by itself.

Stinova is no spring chicken, yet she goes from the traditional role that we all so often expect to see a married woman past the age of 35 playing to the sort of take no prisoners femme fatale that you'd expect to see played by a 21-year-old. She's graceful, elegant, strong and unapologetic, four characteristics that Brittany Murphy woudln't know if she tripped over them. And to pull off such a character on the back of one so completely opposite to that is a feat that only a top quality actress could pull off.

Director Michaela Pavlatova, who was previously Oscar nominated for an animated work but marks this as his debut feature, takes great delight in setting his characters up for spectacular falls, and though you can often see what is to come ahead of time, Pavlatova treads so carefully and deliberately that you simply can't look away as disaster rears its ugly head. There's a certain dark comedy about Faithless Games, even during its harshest moments of internal rage, and that helps categorize it as a genuine pleasure.

There are more compelling films coming out of Europe this year, but few will feature characters as fully realized as Zuzana Stinova's Eva. More's the pity.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10821&reviewer=1
originally posted: 10/19/04 07:01:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/26/04 Robert Holub In the whole movie there is no explanation why the couple wouldn't consider having children 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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