These days, the unexpected title drop well after its traditional station may not be as novel as it one was, but in “Ordinary Failures,” it arrives like a gauntlet being thrown by second-time feature director Cristina Grosan. The deeply impressive dark comedy imagines the worst occurring in a small, unidentified corner of Eastern Europe where an explosion has rocked downtown, leading residents to abandon their cars and scurry around for safety as one might expect from a Roland Emmerich joint where the threat is unknown. But there’s a sense that the apocalypse has already set in well before for a trio of women in town who cross paths during the desperate times, each oddly prepared to act without panic in an emergency when they’ve been shaken to their core beforehand.
Flirting with sci-fi more as a state of mind rather than as a genre, “Ordinary Failures” unfolds as if it takes place in the future yet Grosan uses nothing more than the occasional dutch angle, brutalist architecture and a robotic dog to make the suggestion when the problems facing the middle-aged Hana (Tatjana Medvecká), the young mother Silva (Beata Kanokova) and the teenage Tereza (Nora Klimesová) seem both immediate and timeless. Each have to wonder what world they are in as they suffer through experiences that only they themselves can pull themselves through, whether it is Tereza suffering through a birthday party her mother is throwing for her in the throes of puberty, Silva trying to salvage a mess made by her son David after a skirmish at school, and Hana unsure of what to do in the months after her husband passed away, though she won’t get a chance to bury herself in work when she receives an unwanted early retirement.
All are given their own chapter, filled with indignities that pile up as they care for someone or something other than themselves without feeling that anyone’s looking out for them in return – Hana only has to take in the robotic dog of her late husband to the shop for repairs, but attends group therapy to make her daughter feel better, while Tereza herds the newborn kittens her cat births and Silva tussles with the feisty Daniel, who in a sign of the film’s sly humor wears a shirt that proclaims “Not Guilty,” when he’s surely not innocent, either. But when it can be safely assumed that early reports that the explosion might’ve been caused by ruptured pipes were not accurate as the skies fill with aurora borealis-like waves of light, the trio are able to look at the chaos a bit differently than their counterparts, extending the unique vision that Grosan and co-writer Klára Vlasáková have as well on how catastrophes have a way of clarifying issues that long boiled underneath the surface without regard.
Executed with as much skill as creativity as there is on display, “Ordinary Failures” becomes truly extraordinary in relating internal crises at the scale they feel to the people experiencing them while others can’t see the warning signs. You can’t help but take notice when Grosan has made something so undeniable.
“Ordinary Failures” will screen again in the Giornate Degli Autori section of the Venice Film Festival on September 8th at 10 pm at the Sala Corinto.