Andrea Sedláčková’s “Fair Play” the Czech Republic’s Foreign Oscar submission, uses sports competition as a lens to examine Soviet era repression in its satellite states.
There isn’t a lot of morale ambiguity in this tale of totalitarianism’s incursion into private lives, but Andrea Sedlackova’s realist narrative engages us.
Slovak actress Judit Bárdos plays Anna, a talented teen sprinter living with her mother Irena (Anna Geislerová), a onetime tennis champ. When Anna’s father fled to the West authorities quashed her dissident mother’s sports career; now they are putting pressure on her to comply with covert experimental performance doping, (long before civilian had ever heard of anabolic steroids.)
Sports apparatchik intend to give their top competitors Stromba (an anabolic steroid) as a PR device to prove to the West the superior health of their Communist life style.
The atmosphere around the athletes has a Cold War Science Race feel, surrounding each young athlete with teams of doctors, coaches and mysterious therapists monitoring their “vitamin injections.
Refusing the shots wasn’t an option, insisted the trainers, invoking the national honor and the money the ‘whole’ country already invested in the athletes training.
If she was dropped from the state team, Anna would also lose her university education.
Reduced to working as a cleaning lady, Irena channels her competitive spirit helping her daughter achieve success.
She dreams of engineering Anna’s escape to the West, where, rejoining her father, she can enjoy a better life and training advantages.
Trainer Bohdan (Slovak actor Roman Luknár) coaches Anna and her main competition Marina (Eva Josefíková) for the team qualifying round of the upcoming 1984 LA Summer Olympics.
Controlling Irena insists in administering Anna’s doses. Anna becomes suspicious as she notes facial and body hair and scary physical and psychological side effects associated with steroids. Eventually she collapses on the track.
Anna’s involved with privileged student Tomas (Ondrej Novak), whose father, an elite scientist, knows the dangers of Stromba.
Anna is basically betrayed by her trainer, team of doctors and ultimately her mother. She and Irena decide to secretly discontinue the Stromba. At first she can keep up, but soon she’s easily surpassed by Marina, her rival athlete.
Irena’s former flame Marek (Roman Zach), another political dissident, asks her to type his radical essays questioning the socialist regime.
Meeting him covertly, she smuggles the papers home after work. The Secret police discover her involvement and use that to pressure her to continue doping Anna without telling her.
For Irena, the ends justify the means. She re-administers the Stromba, hoping that Anna will have chance to claim political asylum if she can travel out of the country for the Olympic Games.
Anna Geislerova (“Zelory”, “The Idiot Returns” (“Návrat idiota”) “Something Like Happiness”) commands our attention. Its a pity her arc wasn’t more extensive. Indeed her subplot typing dissident articles stayed in my mind waiting for a payoff.
Viera Dandova’s art direction and Baset Jan Strítezský’s bleached out cinematography captures the bleak Soviet era.
Sedláčková emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1988, just before the Velvet Revolution of 1989. She is a well known film editor in France (“Our Happy Lives”,”Une hirondelle a fait le printemps”, “Malabar Princess”, “Joyeux Noël” and “Welcome” (nominated for the 2009 César for Best Editing). She continued making television films and features (“Victims and Murderers”) in the Czech Republic
Ironically, in response to U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies, led by the Soviet Union, boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. SEEN EFP-LA SCREENINGS