In this 1991 semiautobiographical film set in the late 30s veteran Czech-born director Jiri Weiss turns a series of childhood incidents into a riveting narrative about a young Jewish student's coming-of-age and the surprising marriage of his doctor uncle to a German maid. What starts out as Emil's rites of passage in a Nazi-infested Czech town gradually evolves into a poignant love story between the uninhibited doctor and his plump, homely mate who can't quite rid herself of her old servant ways. The couple's powerful bond forms a shield against disapproving relatives and the increasingly lethal political atmosphere. To Weiss's credit the depiction of this relationship is almost free of pathos; its emotional force is built up through vignettes told so matter-of-factly that the uncle's ultimate act of selflessness and the wife's mysterious disappearance pack a real wallop. The casting of Michel Piccoli and Marianne Sagebrecht as the endearing odd couple is right on, with Sagebrecht displaying an inner radiance and sincerity. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, February 17, 8:00, and Sunday, February 18, 2:00, 443-3737. --Ted Shen
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.