Czech butch dyke flick hits the Roxie

  • by Erin Blackwell
  • Tuesday March 28, 2017
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San Francisco is no longer the citadel of all things bohemian. We have been colonized by soulless technocrats who daily drive down the quality of life in this erstwhile haven for artists, anarchists, and free spirits. We have lost so much ground to the forces of conformism and successism, and yet here and there pockets of subversion hang on. One such cultural holdout is the venerable Roxie Theater on 16th Street. For the three days of the Czech That Film mini-fest, cinephiles plunge into the inspirational dreams of the ancient kingdom of Bohemia herself. Six recent films reveal the cutting edge of a rich aesthetic heritage, starting Friday.

On July 10, 1973, in the capital city of Prague, a truck going 60 mph jumped the sidewalk and mowed down a small group of people, killing eight and injuring 12. It wasn't an accident. The driver was a 22-year-old woman with hate in her heart for the human race. Olga Hepnarova was ahead of her time. Today, her mad act would fit right into the online Daily Mail 's collection of bizarre urban atrocities. Nonetheless, eyebrows would still be raised at the fact that she was a woman acting alone, unaffiliated with an Islamist, or indeed any other human, let alone group, a white European simply hell-bent on destroying a bunch of her fellow citizens.

Of course she was a lesbian. A couple of men, writers-directors Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda, have taken on the task of publicizing Hepnarova's evil genius so that she might serve as an inspiration to a new generation of lesbian troublemakers. For this, I applaud them, and urge everyone to run to this opening-night film, annoyingly scheduled at 9:20 p.m. on March 31, and only playing once. But maybe the Roxie will wise up and make it a regular Midnight show with costume contests, kiss-ins, and truck-driver discounts. Free popcorn for alienated butch truck-drivers convinced the world hates them.

The film's title, I, Olga Hepnarova , is a quote from a brief manifesto she sent to two newspapers before her final truck ride. Alas, having never before heard of this icon of butch liberation, I don't know the letter by heart, but must quote from Wikipedia. "I am a loner. A destroyed woman. A woman destroyed by people. I have a choice �" to kill myself or to kill others. I choose TO PAY BACK MY HATERS. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide victim. Society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarova, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to death." Wow.

I, Olga Hepnarova is shot in black-and-white, in a style that is cold, clinical, and near the film's start, even kitsch in its depiction of lesbian style. A ham-fisted series of encounters establishes Olga's dyke credentials upfront in a graphic display that will satisfy the male voyeur. Lead actress Michalina Olszanska does a pretty good job of looking permanently pissed-off, hunching her body into a tense curve of repressed rage, head down, gaze averted. The actress is, however, a raven-haired beauty, filmed in interminable close-ups with a vaguely alienated semi-sneer and an ineptly held cigarette in fingers that lack that hard-earned nicotine stain.

Hepnarova was hanged on March 12, 1975, after a trial at which she made clear her contempt for a society that had bullied her. Was she schizophrenic? Probably. How did she get that way? The film doesn't attempt an answer, satisfied to illustrate the known facts of the case in a meticulous reenactment that never takes flight into the heart of her madness. We are held at arm's length, in a literal-minded rendering of alienation that remains tentative and cautious where its anti-heroine was over-the-top monstrous. Only the Czech equivalent of a young Bette Davis could do this bitch justice, and even she'd need a better script.


Czech That Film, March 31-April 2, Roxie Theater.