"The Red Captain: Tortured by the past" by Michal Kollár (Slovakia / Czech Republic)
Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2016 - First Features Film Competition
Despite its title, The Red Captain is not a pirate movie, but a gritty crime thriller set in former Czechoslovakia. Michal Kollár is an already established producer with his Fog'n'Desire Films, so his first feature film as a director is one of the biggest Slovak productions to date with a high budget and strong production values.
The setting of the film in 1992, after the end of the Soviet era and shortly before the split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, makes for an very interesting period piece, recreated in detail and with the help of special effects by art director Tomás Svoboda. For the script, Kollár and co-writers Anna Fifikova and Miro Šifra partly adapted the best-selling novel by Dominik Dán, “the Slovak equivalent of Ed McBain or Ian Fleming,” according to the director.
At the centre of the story is the 32 year-old homicide detective Richard Krauz (Maciej Stuhr), “a good and a bad cop, all in one package”. An embodiment of an ambitious workaholic policeman, he still tries to be a loving husband and father as well. Just having caught a serial killer, he stumbles into a cold case from the eighties that leads him into a rather complex plot involving state security and the Catholic church. A skeleton of a church clerk literally surfaces on a disused graveyard with a nail in its skull. “This was no suicide,” the cynical coroner comments. While Richard’s older partner shows very little interest in the case, Krauz can’t let it go, partly in order to prove he is not one of those covering up the old regime’s crimes. The key player in this political crime case is an interrogator of the former secret police, nicknamed Red Captain for his brutal torture techniques.
The director went for a hard-boiled Eastern European noir in which the references and borrowed genre elements, such as the Chinatown-like summer heat, are not hidden. Together with his Polish cinematographer Kacper Fertacz (up-and-coming DoP, this year also on the festival circuit with The Last Family), Kollár meticulously created elaborate shots, from the fancy title sequence to the prolonged showdown, even for the shortest scenes. The texture and grading of the film does not try to achieve a realistic look, but rather enhances the nineties nostalgia of the set design.
The slightly over-complex plot line with its various suspense twists and the subsequent runtime of 115 minutes raise the question if the material is not better suited for a high-profile mini-series; examples like The Americans or The Last Panthers come to mind. Financially, this project is one of the most expensive co-productions of Czech Republic and Slovakia though, two countries whose film industries are closely connected.
Although international audience can hardly pick up on some of the details, like language differences between Czech and Slovak, or the original television snippets of politicians campaigning for the split of the country, these socio-political specifics add to the film’s atmosphere. Like the very best genre classics, The Red Captain has the additional spice in the carefully balanced piece of craftsmanship. And through this mix, the film works very well as a suspenseful narrative.
Name: Marian Wilhelm