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No hope for "Rivers of Babylon"

Foreigners hoping for a relaxing night at the movies better avoid Rivers of Babylon. Though the movie is breaking box-office records in Bratislava, there are a few things to be wary of. First, the movie is in Slovak without English subtitles, and second, the story is depressing and does not contain a single character to root for. So why would anyone who couldn't understand a lick of Slovak want to go?
Well, the movie is entertaining for the first half hour, but more interesting still is the fact that the film is an obvious parable of current political events in Slovakia. The makers of this movie are not trying to be subtle. The opening scene shows a panorama of Bratislava in the morning, with the words "somewhere in Central Europe around 1989," on the screen.


Racz rules.
AELF Studios

Foreigners hoping for a relaxing night at the movies better avoid Rivers of Babylon. Though the movie is breaking box-office records in Bratislava, there are a few things to be wary of. First, the movie is in Slovak without English subtitles, and second, the story is depressing and does not contain a single character to root for. So why would anyone who couldn't understand a lick of Slovak want to go?

Well, the movie is entertaining for the first half hour, but more interesting still is the fact that the film is an obvious parable of current political events in Slovakia. The makers of this movie are not trying to be subtle. The opening scene shows a panorama of Bratislava in the morning, with the words "somewhere in Central Europe around 1989," on the screen. The story follows the rise to power of a black-market money changer with a conscience, played by Ady Hajdu, and a hotel furnace stoker named Racz, played by Radio Twist owner Andy Hryc.

Racz is a take on current Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar and his ascent to political power. Racz is a brute who intimidates his way through a world of prostitutes, guns, drinking and violence, eventually to become master of it all. Racz accumulates a rather rough crowd around him in the underworld. They decide to run for national election and win, an event mirroring the rise to power of the prime minister's political party.

Another scene shows a man being kidnapped and forced to drink a bottle of whisky, paralleling the kidnapping of the former president's son, who was abducted to Austria and forced to drink hard alcohol.

Those who know a little of what is going on in Slovak politics will be able to amuse themselves trying to tie parts of the movie to figures or events in Slovakia. But otherwise, the film stinks. It is not visually stimulating. In fact, camera work and editing is sloppy, with the seven years it took to make the film painfully obvious in its disjointed veneer. The Hotel Danube - which was finished in 1993 - is shown not yet constructed when the film starts, but the VÚB bank tower - finished in 1997 - stands in the background in a few scenes.

The film has no climax, but instead moves at a slow pace so that the moral disintegration of the characters can continue on its remorseless course. This decline begins to seem improbable after a while, because these figures had no morals to speak of when the film began, but this is of course the point. The message is that big, tough idiots always win in society, and that there is no hope of changing this elemental truth. The Mafia must love this film.

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