11 March 2013


Marek Najbrt's 2009 film Protektor has been criticized as "overly stylized" and obsessively concerned with "surface" concerns instead of "real" issues. But "surface" is exactly what is in question in a film about the experience of a movie star who was on her way to being the latest glamour queen of Czechoslovakia before the Nazis ended her hopes of a career. We are introduced to her as her stardom seems assured, and the film continuously plays upon the differences between image-based photographic media and the very different dynamics of radio/voice/text. Some of the most compelling sequences are Hana's reckless photographic protests against the labelling of her body/image as Jewish despite her own lack of identification with that heritage at the outset of the story. She performatively tests the line between Jewish and Aryan images and Jewish and Aryan spaces. Marking, labelling, reproducing and manipulating images are continuous threads throughout the film, even in the case of her costar whose false papers aren't convincing enough reproductions to allow him to escape. In the end, Hana's reproductions of herself as an Aryan-looking woman whose image was valued and desired before the Nazi occupation is also not able to stand against the power of the occupying regime and the Czech collaborators. However, the themes of image, surface, manipulation, and diguise are central to the film, and the stylization supports the film's examination of these issues.

Also: note that all of these reproductions and manipulations of images are of the image of a woman who was, it bears repreating, on her way to becoming a sex symbol and a sign of all that is desirable and lovable. The process through which her image changes from aspirational to undesirable is well worth examining and the film addresses it well.

I could say so much more! The film is absolutely incredible. I also find it fascinating that the NYTimes review sees the film as not depicting the Nazi oocupation and deportation of Jews "seriously" enough. Must every film about the Holocaust represent one, single experience? It is made clear to Hana that her misery in her experience of the Nazi occupation is not nearly as terrible as the experiences of many others, but nonetheless, a story such as hers is as interesting as other experiences of genocide. Sometimes I think people don't realize that not all violence and oppression is as clear cut as actually being imprisoned in Auschwitz. Given the wealth of films and documentation of the extreme horror of the Holocaust, the film's reference to Hana's comparative privilege reminds the viewer to watch the film in dialogue with everything else ze has encountered in literature, art, and history about the Holocaust.

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