2009 CIFF: Who’s Afraid of the Wolf (Kdopak by se vlka bál, 2008)

Director/Screenwriter: Maria Procházková

2009 Chicago International Film Festival

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Six-year-old Terezka (Dorata Dedková) is obsessed with the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, or so her mother (Jitka Cvancarová) says. She makes her mother read it to her night after night. Terezka has bad dreams about the wolf. Blink your eyes very quickly, says her mother, and your fear will vanish. It works! But what will take care of the wolf that is entering Terezka’s home—Patrik (Martin Hofman), her natural father come back to win her mother away from her dad (Pavel Reznicek)?

Who’s Afraid of the Wolf, a great film from the Czech Republic, sets out to tell an all-too-common story for adults and children these days using that magic device of childhood—the fairytale. Markers of Red Riding Hood are all over this film, from the insinuation of Patrik into Terezka’s world, to a trip to grandmother’s (Jana Krausová) with a basket of goodies, to a wolflike German Shepherd sent to find Terezka when she runs away. But this film, largely told through the imaginative eyes of Terezka, remains realistic, exploring the threat of divorce and the tension between work and home faced by most modern families in the developed world as a child might experience them.

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Terezka’s cartoon punctuation on the people around her—a crown for Gábinka (Marie Boková), a disliked classmate who acts like a princess, green alien arms drawn over her mother’s arms (drawn and animated by the director, an award-winning animator)—allow us to see through her eyes. When she talks with her best friend Simon (Matous Kratina) during nap time, she listens to his sage advice as any of us would a trusted friend.

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Simon puts the problems in Terezka’s home down to her mother being an alien, voicing a common concern of all children that they might be adopted. Terezka takes this advice on its face and plans to test her mother. If she doesn’t bleed, says Simon, she’s an alien. It’s horrifying to see Terezka put a fork under her pillow and then lay calmly listening to her mother read Red Riding Hood to her, waiting for the right moment to stab her. Seen another way, Terezka’s fork test is doubtless an expression of her anger with her mother for entertaining the advances of her former lover, a self-centered cellist who left her before he knew she was pregnant and only now wishes to have an instant family.

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Dedková is an energetic, intelligent child who makes us believe in Terezka and her view of life—we deeply care what happens to her. Her mother’s husband, beautifully played by Reznicek, loves her completely and is a wonderful father. The big tension he contributes to his family is that he’s always working at his job as head of airport security, using the excuse of increased security concerns to avoid facing people like his mother-in-law, who disapproves of her daughter giving up her singing career for family life and partly blames him. For her part, Terezka’s mother has denied her own stifled creativity and ambition. Old clippings announcing her retirement fascinate Terezka and haunt her mother. Patrik’s return has forced this couple to confront their problems.

I was captivated by the interplay of fantasy and reality in this film. Procházková confidently intercuts between Terezka’s fantasies of being Little Red Riding Hood and her real-life activities. Terezka’s clever escape from the airport to avoid leaving with Patrik and her mother for Japan is a small masterpiece of choreography and alternating realities.

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Terezka’s mother, disenchanted with Patrik because of his shallow indifference to Terezka’s disappearance, tears the earrings he gave her out of her ears. When Terezka is found and sees the blood drying on her mother’s ear, she—and we—know that maybe everything will be all right after all. It’s a wonderful feeling indeed. l

  • ARBOGAST spoke:
    14th/10/2009 to 6:41 pm

    Wow, I really want to see this now!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    14th/10/2009 to 8:53 pm

    Arbo – Thanks for keeping me company.

  • pudlpaf spoke:
    25th/10/2009 to 3:34 pm

    Does anyone know where I can download english subtitles for this great film?

  • Atelerix spoke:
    29th/05/2010 to 2:55 pm

    Does anyone know where a DVD of this film could be purchased?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    29th/05/2010 to 3:54 pm

    This is a possible source: “Czech Film Center takes a moment to summarize its activities over the last twelve months. In 2008/2009, Czech Film Center, which has been operating for eight years running, organized a number of important Czech film tours and festivals abroad (four of which were held in conjunction with the Czech Presidency of the EU), represented the country’s cinema at the film markets in Berlin and in Cannes, and continued its traditional publishing activities (for example, its annual Catalog of Czech Films, DVD of Czech Films and brochures for upcoming projects).”

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