The Road to Degradation
“Mandragora” is one of two films I received from WaterBearer Films for review this week and it held me spellbound. It is a brutal and realistic look at male prostitution in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Prague has recently been discovered by gay movie makers as an ideal site to make movies. I suppose this is due to the plethora of beautiful men and incredible beautiful scenery. The porn companies have been filming there for several years now and Prague has emerged as one of the gay capitals of Europe. This astonishing film is tells the tale of the seductive world of male prostitution which promises money but ultimately with the loss of self respect and loneliness.
Marek (Miroslav Caslavka) is incredibly beautiful and a stunning screen presence. At 15, he left his home village and finds himself surrounded by petty thieves who wear beautiful clothes. Hs father wanted him to go to school and have a good life and the collision between father and son is the catalyst which causes Marek to move to Prague. Once there, a pimp named Honza convinces him to become a rabbit or male whore. Marek’s first experience with a wealthy American disappoints but he nevertheless returns to the streets where he meets another “rabbit”, David, and the two form an alliance to escape Honza’s grip. Together they manage to see and to experience everything the night life of Prague has to offer.
Their lives become revolving doors where people cone and go but not before leaving scars. There is always the threat f drug addiction and HIV infection and eventually they sink to the world of gay porn. A brutal rape scene in which Marek is sodomized by David results in a police raid and Honza miraculously comes to their aid. They return to him and to the world of drugs and illicit sex, to a life filled with drug hallucinations and an unsavory clientele. Marek’s father comes to Prague and discovers his son’s activities and the final scene is sad to the point of devastation.
This is a downbeat film and I found it hard to believe that people live can this and can actually sink to such levels. The movie is a voyeuristic look into the world of hustling and professes to moralize on the scene of gay male prostitution. It is extremely difficult to see a young boy stripped of his innocence and subjected to the depravity of the milieu where he finds himself. Just when you think he is going to find some sense of stability he is sucked up again into a world that is depicted as having no sense of morality. It is Marek’s own lack of self-esteem which causes his downfall.
Although the movie is ostensibly about the world of prostitution in Prague is even more so about Czechoslovakia itself. I remember taking a course in Czech history and learning how the Czech people struggled to achieve national unity only to be defeated by Nazi Germany and afterwards becoming part of Stalin’s Soviet Union. This caused the privatization of national symbols and assets and because of that the movie industry declined considerably. It is wonderful to see a movie that has come out of Slovakia that is both meaningful and well made.
Watching this movie is a wrenching experience, especially watching Marek fall victim to such a terrible world. His violation and isolation will break even the strongest of hearts. The story of Marek and his fall is the story of the fall of civilization which when raped will disintegrate and die. It is, as if to say, that the world is plummeting toward a dead end.
The actors are nothing short of wonderful. Their performances are painstakingly believable and they perform with passion. The film is dark and cruel as it descends into the belly of the underworld of Prague. But the direction is fine—more than fine, actually and the performances are just amazing. The movie sweeps us up into a world of compassion and humiliating degradation. Maybe the editing is not perfect and the sound needs work, this is a very important film that should not be missed.