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KARLOVY VARY 2019 Competition

Review: Let There Be Light

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- The relationship between fathers and sons is at the heart of Marko Škop's second feature, which deals with the rise of the extreme right wing in Slovakia

Review: Let There Be Light
Milan Ondrík in Let There Be Light

Slovak filmmaker Marko Škop's second feature, Let There Be Light [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marko Škop
film profile
]
, which has just world-premiered in Karlovy Vary's Competition, is the first big fiction production in Central Europe to deal directly with the rise of the extreme right wing.

It is Christmas, and Milan Deniš (the excellent Milan Ondrík) returns from his construction job in Germany to his family in the Slovak village of Nowa Huta. His wife Zuzka (Zuzana Konečná) is, of course, happy to see him, but her exhaustion and worry over the three children that she is mostly bringing up on her own unmistakably radiates from her. Even as they attempt to brush this aside, at least for the holidays, the family, and the whole village, are shaken by the suicide of local boy Peter, a friend of their teenage son Adam (František Beleš, fantastic at portraying a vulnerable adolescent full of rage and shame).

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It turns out that both youths belong to the paramilitary organisation The Guard, in which they are trained to "protect their family and homeland". And apparently, Peter was gay. But Adam denies he has any knowledge of what might have pushed his friend to take his own life.

Meanwhile, we come to realise that the family is very religious, and that Milan himself has a collection of rifles and machine guns that he enjoys cleaning – but is trying to make sure the kids don't go anywhere near them. After Sunday Mass, the Denišes go to visit Milan's tough, zealously religious father (Ľubomír Paulovič), who mentions how the rule of the fascist Slovak puppet state during World War II was the only time the country had it good, and in addition humiliates his son for being too soft.

But Milan is a good man at heart, and maybe that is a problem – fascism gains momentum not because too many people are evil, but because too many good people do not act. So he goes to visit Peter's parents and learns that the boy told them he was raped on the day he committed suicide. As he starts to investigate, pressuring his son, the family is threatened. Milan turns to a young priest (an appropriately irritating Daniel Fischer) only to learn that the church condones The Guard's acts even more than the local police.

Those who have seen Jan Gebert's When the War Comes [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, a documentary about a real such organisation called Slovak Recruits, will have no problem recognising the story as ringing very true. And more important than the factual reality of the topic is Škop's straightforward but nuanced script, in which small details reveal much more about modern-day Slovak society than is explicitly shown. However, Let There Be Light is, at its heart, a story about how sons perpetuate their fathers' mistakes by copying their patterns in relationships with their own sons and, in turn, how this eventually creates the incendiary and hateful atmosphere in society that brings scum to the top.

Let There Be Light is a co-production between the two biggest independent production companies in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Artileria and Negativ, respectively, with the participation of both national broadcasters, Radio and Television Slovakia and Czech Television. Although such a production structure may have led to the film being somewhat less ambiguous than a more arthouse-spirited approach would allow for, the topic it deals with is huge and very important, and it deserves a healthy level of exhibition, both in theatres and on television. Paris-based Loco Films has the international rights.

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