Jan is a middle aged vet, trapped in an increasingly unbearable marriage. After the death of his father-in-law, who never had a moment's freedom in his life, and whose last wishes are being ignored, Jan has had enough. Afraid of ending up just like him, he takes drastic measures, faking dementia to get some time to himself. He invites his two boys into his confidence, and begins taking them out on regular trips, to get away from it all and enjoy life. But this soon earns the suspicion of the rest of the family, risking this new freedom...
Tiger Theory is a fairly recent Czech drama film, all about the life and struggles of its middle aged lead as he tries to find himself. The film is fairly lighthearted, with subject matter that has a bit of weight to it, but doesn't let things get too dramatic. There's good emotion here, and the story is presented well, even if it's fairly clear where things will go.
Also, I don't think Czechs got the memo that smoking kills. Come on, guys, it's 2016! Throw those things away!
The film has interesting themes about personal freedom. Jan is clearly in need of an escape, while it's not as clear cut with his kids. They're otherwise good couples, but whose lives are being spoiled by outside influence. When Erik finally gets some time to himself, it's through a lie, but it does make him realise how little freedom he normally has. It's not cool to take off on weekends without telling your wife where you're going, but when it exposes how controlling she's being, it's like it opens his eyes a bit.
Tiger Theory is a very character-driven film, and they're a good bunch to centre a story on. There was only one major issue. I was a little confused who was who, and what relation they were to each-other. Sons, daughters, children-in-law, grandkids, grandparents, etc (to say nothing of similar names).
Jan is a strong lead. Softly spoken, but determined. He's very easy to root for. Partway through he meets an chatty young photographer, and has instant rapport with. She's a nice girl, despite her somewhat flawed opinion on relationships, and even tries seducing Jan. He'd frankly be pretty justified in knocking boots with her, but to his credit, he doesn't. Even if he has every intention of divorcing his wife, who he has no love for left, it speaks well of him that he doesn't go banging the first nice chick he meets.
Son-in-law Erik is an ok guy, who tries making the best with his wife, until it becomes too much. He lashes out a couple of times, justifiably pissed off at being spied on. Though he gets a bit handsy in one scene near the end that felt out-of-keeping, and made me wanna belt him. Pepik's a pretty casual dude, who's satisfied with lounging around and training dogs. Though he gets one particular moment where he gets mad at his father. He was kind of a dick, really! All Jan wants to do is honour his father's last wishes, and Pepik gets pissed off.
The girls are on either end of the spectrum. Olinka is a nice enough lady in her own right, but her mind is being poisoned by her mother, who influences her to control everything Erik does. She has her bad moments, and some of them can be pretty jawdropping, like her justification for spying: "If you just told me where you were I wouldn't have to track you". Alena on the other hand is a much more down-to-earth girl. She values her husband more, has trust in him, and often clashes with the other girls for their line-crossing actions.
The closest thing the film has to a villain is definitely Olga, Jan's domineering wife. While Olinka is susceptible, she's still young, and can change. Olga on the other hand is set in her ways. She's a controlling, toxic person, who's blind to the harm she's spreading. She also has a bad position as a uni professor, where she's guilty of almost indoctrinating her students. She even uses her own personal tragedies as teaching tools (i.e. 'My father just died, which just goes to show all you students that you need to listen to me, or else you'll die prematurely') which feels really sleazy.
Tiger Theory excels in having really hateable characters, in such a relateable way. If a mad scientist is planning to blow up humanity, you cheer along , but when a regular person makes the kind of patronising or ignorant comment that could have been directed at you, it really riles you up. It honestly makes the film a tough watch in places, because it pisses you off so much. I do kinda wish it hadn't gone quite so far.
There's a pitfall the film very easily could have fallen into, and I have seen a couple of people criticise it for this very reason. A movie about free-spirited men being crushed down by dominant shrew-ish women could have come off as sexist! Thankfully Tiger Theory does not, at least to me. It makes it clear enough that these particular women only act how they do because of poor upbringing, not innate 'feminine wiles'. There are plenty of positive female characters, and ones in-between. The men also aren't posturing alpha male jerks. There's even a bit of ambiguity. Pepik, in his grumpier moment, tells his dad "Women didn't take any freedom from you; you've never had any inside you.".
The final act is a little drawn out, and has a couple of developments I didn't like as much. What really confused me was the baby subplot. It's said that Pepik's sperm count is low, so he and his wife will have trouble conceiving. Near the end, they receive good news, which is instantly pooh-poohed by Olinka, who believes Alena has been sleeping around to get pregnant. It's so out-of-nowhere she suddenly believes so ill of her sister-in-law, who's given no indication of such behaviour. She coulda just got IVF. Or maybe they really were that lucky! His sperm count was sleepy, not dead!
The ending itself is nice. Jan has found true happiness, with minimal legal troubles for all of the stunts he pulled throughout the movie, he's got a good relationship with his younger family, and Olinka has come out right. The only one on the short end of the draw is Olga, who remains a bitter crone, whose words about divorced men never finding happiness are quickly proven wrong.
The score here is good. It does sound a little manipulative in places though. Like they picked exactly the right songs to provoke an easy emotional reaction. But it's not really something to complain too much about, considering it works. Also as a European film, it's inevitable that at least half the songs are in English for some reason. Helpful for us native speakers!
This is a good looking movie, with great shot composition, and nice lighting, both natural and artificial. The countryside is shown off very well, as are the small villages of the Czech Republic.
The cast in Tiger Theory all do a fine job. Jiří Bartoška is an effective lead, and carries the film well. He has a nice sense of calm and wisdom about him that encapsulates the movies themes. He also has such a tan I thought this was an Indian film based on the poster!
Tiger Theory is a nice film, and well worth a watch. While it could've had a little of this or that, it's otherwise a good time, and definitely preferable over a lot of other foreign 'Oscar bait' that pops up. This is an earnest picture, with plenty of heart...