KVIFF 2018: Winter Flies

Olmo Omerzu’s lively road movie following two teens making a break from home doesn't really go anywhere, but the journey is a fun one

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 02 Jul 2018
  • Winter Flies

The flies still buzzing around during a Czech winter are made of tough stuff, but they need a bit of warmth. The same could be said for Mára (Tomás Mrvík) and Hedus (Jan Frantisek Uher), the 14-year-old protagonists at the heart of Olmo Omerzu’s lively road movie, titled Winter Flies. Hedus is the goofball of the duo, and when we initially meet him the eyes can hardly pick him out. Looking vaguely like Chewbacca's rotund younger brother, he’s introduced stalking across a frost-covered forest dressed in mossy hunting camouflage. The weapon he's carrying looks deadly, but it turns out to be a paintball gun.

Mara, who's sturdy and compact like a pitbull, is the cooler of the two, but he’s not without his tender side. Imagine if Jerry O’Connell and River Phoenix from Stand by Me were given their own movie and you’re part way to picturing the dynamic between the pair. On a whim, Hedus decides to joint Mara as he motors away from home in a stolen Audi. “We could join the French Foreign Legion,” suggests Hedus. Given we’ve just seen him toil while clambering over a 1m diameter pipe in the forest, we suspect he might struggle with the physical demands of the Legion.

It’s soon revealed that the breezy cross-country adventure we’re watching is a flashback, with Mára currently in police custody. As the film cross-cuts between scenes on the road and the police interrogation, it’s clear the young runaway isn’t telling the full story. He claims he’s skipped town because he knocked up a girl back home and doesn’t want to be pinned down, but his yarn is full of elisions and outrageous porky pies. At one point you half expect the police officer to drop her Kobayashi coffee cup in slow motion, but Omerzu has something more exuberant in mind.

The Czech-based, Slovenian-born director's lively filmmaking style is full of vivid compositions and wry edits. At one point the fiercely independent Mára boast to the police that he’s so happy in his own company he could live in a tree on his own for three years, before sharply cutting to the boy messing around up a tree with his buddy Hedus. Omerzu also likes to interrupt the zigzagging time frames with playful digressions. In the most lyrical of these eddys, a trio of wild animals – a pheasant, a rabbit, a hedgehog – are observed just about bearing up in the sub-zero conditions, while another involves one of the police officers who's questioning Mara slipping off for an afternoon quickie with his lover in a poorly heated caravan. The message is clear: we're all trying to make it through winter.

If you’re the type of moviegoer who wants your road movies to have a final destination you’ll be frustrated by Winter Flies; the lads may still be out there on the blacktop for all we know. Like all good road movies though, it’s the journey that's to be recommended. Mara and Hedus, who are joined on part of their trip by a 20-something hitchhiker (Eliška Křenková) whom both boys fancy, are fine, rambunctious company. The young actors are greenhorns, discovered through a long casting process, but you’d never know it. Mrvik, in particular, is a real find. He’s tough, vulpine and charismatic, but in a beat, that’ll melt away and he’s a wet-behind-the-ears teenager again.

Tying this all together is a sprightly, Benjamin Britten-esque score – all cheery wind instruments and jaunty percussion – that’s so warm and winning you’ll swear it’s melting the frosty Czech countryside before your eyes.

Winter Flies had its world premiere at the 53rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where it competes in the Official Competition