' Cinema Romantico: Fair Play

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fair Play

Less a traditional sports movie than a thriller set in the sporting arena, "Fair Play" revolves around Anna (Judit Bardos), an 18 year old elite-level Czech sprinter who openly opines that she prefers "racing to running", and small wonder why. After all, it is 1984, the Cold War is still raging, and communist countries like Czechoslovakia are in an athletics arm race with those nansy-pansy democracies, determined to display their ideological might by essentially stating OUR people can run faster than YOUR people. Nah nah nah nah nah nah. And so Anna, enrolled into a "special" program that accounts for its "specialness" by having its athletes take seconds and thirds and fourths at the buffet table of anabolic steroids, has her body essentially co-opted by her country in the craven desire of implementing it as sprinting propaganda.


Interestingly, despite its backdrop, the most important relationship in the film proves not to be athlete & coach but daughter & mother. Irena (Anna Geislerova) was once a promising a tennis star only to have her career negated by ties to government dissidents, and now, forced to work as a cleaning lady for the teensiest of wages, she fears her daughter failing to take advantage of her choice position in a society where choice positions are few.

The re-surfacing of Irene's ties in the form of an old lover, Marek (Roman Zach), who asks her to carry out vaguely defined yet clearly criminal tasks is one of the film's weaker points, never feeling properly lived in, too transparent as a plot necessity. Still, the motherly decision to engage in such activity at the possible expense of her daughter's career is evocative of a certain selfishness - a selfishness that pulsates through the entire picture.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who observed "Communism forgets that life is individual", a sentiment which "Fair Play" both embraces and rejects. Even if Irena is acting out of what she perceives as her daughter's best interests, her actions are not simply spectacularly negligent (and not to be revealed in this review), but carried out in spite of Anna's wishes. This is underscored by the country's track program as a whole, one that builds her into a sleek sprinting machine for the glory of itself, the sports doctors admiring what a precise specimen they have created, snidely and not inaccurately taking credit for her accomplishments.

It is telling that for much of the film, Anna, more or less, takes a backseat to a story that nonetheless remains primarily about her. She is manipulated by her government in the name of common ownership and she becomes an unwitting puppet of her mother to strike back at communism's core values. And Anna purposely becomes lost in the middle, a victim even in victory of two sides of a political spectrum using and abusing her.

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