Fans of the poet Robert Graves will recognize the title of Jan Hrebejk’s “Beauty in Trouble,” which was inspired by Graves’ verse of the same name (“Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel / On whom she can rely … ”).
Anna Geislerova plays the title character, a gorgeous Prague travel agent named Marcela who flees her abusive husband, Jarda (Roman Luknar), with her two children and eventually winds up with the impossibly wealthy and good-hearted Evzen (Josef Abrham), who owns a vineyard in Italy and vows to take care of her every need.
The trouble for this unsettled beauty is her unbridled attraction to the ex who brutalizes her, as well as a stepfather (Jiri Schmitzer) who plays a persistent and discomfiting role in the lives of her and her children.
Hrebejk, who made the wonderful “Up and Down” in 2004, returns to his native Czech Republic to create a vivid, nuanced and sweetly forgiving study in moral ambiguity.
Audiences accustomed to American cinema’s need for stark heroes and villains will recognize a distinctly European sensibility in the filmmakers’ refusal to judge their characters harshly.
It’s easy to imagine the Hollywood version of Marcela’s travails, with her playing either the victimized damsel or manipulative femme fatale. With the exception of a loathsome religious hypocrite who comes to the fore late in the film, Hrebejk populates “Beauty in Trouble” with recognizable human beings who behave accordingly – which is to say completely irrationally, inconsistently and self-destructively.
As unsettling as it is absorbing, “Beauty in Trouble” features an exceptional case of actors from the Czech Republic, especially Geislerova, Schmitzer and the hugely appealing Abrham as the impossibly seraphic Evzen.
Thanks to the warmth and humanity with which they infuse their characters, viewers will actually care about them, no matter how often they revert to their flaws after trying to reform.