I was once doing some research for my film studies course and came across a film trailer for a Czech film called Alois Nebel. I noted it down for further research later and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I was looking through my old work and came across the name once again and so decided to try and find a copy to watch. And now, the review.
Alois Nebel stars Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludvikova and Karel Roden and is directed by Tomas Lunak. Based on the comic book trilogy of the same name, the film follows train dispatcher Alois Nebel during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, where hallucinations of the dark past he witnessed seems to seep into his present.
First of all, Alois Nebel is gorgeous. Instead of traditional animation being used, rotoscoping was employed to create the visuals. For anyone who doesn’t know, rotoscoping is when and animator draws over a live-action performance. It is beautifully created here; it makes the animation look realistic, to the point where some scenes come scarily close to the uncanny valley. There were several times during the film where I forgot I was watching an animation due to the craftsmanship at work.
The animation allows for some beautifully crafted shots throughout Alois Nebel. Sweeping shots of Prague Central Train Station and the fireworks above it on New Years Eve, or wide shots of manor estates during the winter are executed brilliantly, and with meticulous attention to detail. Even Nebel’s small station on the Czech-Polish border is designed to precision, giving the small location so much character.
The animation, along with the stark black and white contrast of the film emphasizes the desolate atmosphere of the Czechoslovakian countryside that we see throughout the film. The opening chase scene in a dense forest, or later in the film where we see the the howling wind accompanied by the falling rain or snow, Alois Nebel is one of the few films that creates a sense of being truly alone, with nothing but nature surrounding you on all sides.
The story is split between Nebel’s present, the 1980s and then ending of the Soviet Union and fleeting scenes of his childhood at the latter end of 1945. You might want to look up on your Eastern European history before you watch, because I became a bit lost at what was happening during the frequent flashbacks. Understanding what is happening in these flashbacks is the key to understanding the beginning, the ending and the strange character known as The Mute, who slips in and out of the story like a ghost.
The film does have its fair share of unsettling scenes. Several brutal scenes of electroshock therapy are explicitly shown during the film, as well as a bloody axe murder during the closing scenes. These scenes however are gone as quickly as they turn up, meaning we only get brief flashes of brutality before we are transported off to the next scene.
In summary, Alois Nebel is a beautifully crafted film. While the story may confuse a few, if you work it out you will find a deeply dark yet human story about a lonely man finding purpose and love in a desolate and chaotic time. If you’re bored of animation being family-friendly films with talking animals as it’s main characters and are looking for something with a bit more drama, Alois Nebel is a fine choice.
Score: 7/10 Nearly flawlessly created, a great effort for a first time director