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Brokeback's Czech debut

Brokeback's Czech debut


Deep in the heart of Prague, far away from the cattle ranches of Wyoming, Zkroncena Hora (Brokeback Mountain) continues to move audiences

We happened to notice it in the Saturday movie listings for Prague: Zkrocena Hora, literally "broken (as in tamed) mountain." My boyfriend, David, has been here since October and knew Brokeback Mountain was coming and what its Czech title would be--but we were surprised to find it already playing in this city of 2 million, with no publicity or fanfare.

So we went. Like most Americans on our end of the Kinsey scale, we saw Brokeback months ago when it debuted in the States. I'd even been interviewed about it on TV in Wisconsin on behalf of our state's gay rights organization. So the movie was old news to us, but we wanted to see it again anyway--and to see how it would play here in another country.

It's hard to believe that 16 years ago the Czech Republic was a communist country with its economy scraping the bottom and a barbed-wire border to keep people in. As just one sign of the way the Czechs have wiped away those dismal aspects of Soviet rule, Brokeback was playing near the center of Prague in a gigantic gleaming new shopping mall. We passed our time before going into the theater by looking at the latest iPods.

But one thing that maybe hasn't changed as fast here is the attitude toward being gay. On one hand, this is a country relatively free from the puritanical sexual hang-ups that hold America back. But still, it's a country where the borders between male and female gender roles are closely patrolled, where two men walking down the street can still attract unwanted stares or worse, and where gay and lesbian people sometimes still cling to the idea that they don't need to be out, so why make a big deal out of it.

In other words, it's a country that might just waiting to be shaken up a little by a film like Brokeback Mountain.

We got to the theater, and found out why Brokeback had gotten so little attention--this was a predpremiera, a sneak preview before the official rollout. The audience would be a largely self-selected group who knew about the film from its foreign buzz.

When we bought our tickets, the girl behind the counter looked up and asked to confirm our choice, curious, as if she hadn't been sure exactly who would come. As the theater filled up, the teenage staff spent more time than needed checking out the audience as well: some foreigners like us, but mostly Czechs, especially young guys in their 20s and 30s, paired off, or with two or three girlfriends. With barely any seats left, a pregnant woman arrived, and the movie started.

It was even more riveting than the first time I saw it. The film played in English with Czech subtitles, and people leaned forward with their chins in their hands and with their bodies tensed in uncomfortable positions during dramatic moments. People laughed at the film's few jokes, like the noisy electric knife scene at the awkward Riverton Thanksgiving, and then, especially as the movie came to an end, they cried. Women in front of us dabbed at their eyes with tissues. A trendy boy next to me wiped away tears with his hands. I did too--for some reason, much more than when I saw Brokeback Mountain at home.

At the end, people sat in silence till the credits ended, then filed somberly out. We easily spotted audience members on the subway platform, small groups sticking close together, still talking about it. It's hard to know whether this will be as big a film here as in America or whether the Brokeback effect will be the same. But in a crowded 700-year-old city that's about as far from Wyoming as it gets, Brokeback Mountain still grips its audience, maybe precisely because it tells a story that is universal even in a place so different.

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Chris Ott