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  • Wiktor Grodecki's masterful film entitled "Mandragora" is by any standard, a stirring and gut wrenching example of poverty gone amok. The torrid film depicts the story of Marek, superbly played by Miroslav Caslavka, a troubled boy of fifteen who, bored with the juvenile pranks and idle antics in an average town, seeks the glitz and glitter of the city of Prague. Once there, he quickly realizes the needs of life in the big city come with a price, one which he cannot afford and thus succumbs to the hungry appetite of the predatory elements surrounding him. Beginning with the alluring promise of quick cash for services rendered, Marek, quickly realizes this means his 'innocence' which is taken after being drugged and raped. Escaping the inattentive and uncaring pimp, he descends into the depths of sexual perversions when he encounters and befriends a more 'experienced' partner who trades him to a dark, sadistic pair, leaving him broken and violated. The decent into the perverted practices continues when, after a brief respite, he finds himself beaten, left for dead and in the hands of a vicious pornographer. With his father searching for him, the boy having survived an appalling apprenticeship, delves into the illusionary and dead end world of drugs where father and son unfortunately miss each other by inches. All in all, a truly revealing film for anyone wishing to have a worm's eye view in the slow death of male prostitutes. *****
  • In response to a previous reviewer's guess that certain characters like the porn director are caricatures: Those who have seen "Body Without Soul" (a powerful documentary by the same director which was clearly the basis for Mandragora's script and the blueprint for its characters) no doubt recognized many lines and scenes. The same can be said about a few characters, the director being one. (David being another - there's even physical resemblance between the actor and the real David.) They both exist in real life, the actor playing the porn director also looks like the original and most of his lines have been taken (word for word) from the documentary where the prototype is being interviewed in GREAT (often sickening) depth plus filmed in action, as he's interviewing a few newboys and prepping them for the next shoot. I'm afraid that unlike everything else he does and says in Mandraghora, the scene of his arrest is fiction, something Grodecki desperately wants to happen. The rest, however, is real.

    Mandragora itself, although erratic until a certain point (there are also a few lines that sound forced, it's as though the writer was trying too hard to condense "the point" and jam it down our throats), eventually becomes coldly honest in the realistic depiction of its characters' degradation and despair. It's also unique in that it doesn't try to explain anything. We never understand the father's insensitive behavior to Marek; we don't get a "valid" reason why the boy runs away from home. Nothing is rationalized like it no doubt would have been if this were mainstream cinema (for example: "The father is a drunk and Marek left home because he was being beaten or sexually molested").

    The point to this approach is quite clear - that in real life, most things can't be explained and others just happen. That there doesn't necessarily need to be a specific, profound reason for a child to run, get lost and spiral down into Hell. Mandragora doesn't look for such excuses because they're not relevant. What is is that most of the time kids run away for no good reason which doesn't make the consequences any different. For life to slip through a child's fingers really could be this accidental and this easy which is exactly where the tragedy is.

    Despite its flaws, I highly recommend this movie. However, you'll get the most accurate idea of the subject matter and Grodecki's perspective if you watch it along with the much better "Body Without Soul".
  • Following the short life of runaway-turned-rent-boy Marek and his new found friend David, Mandragora achieves what many other movies skirt corners in their attempts to achieve. An honest, no-holds-barred look at exactly what can happen when one bad decision leads to another...and another. This movie is brutal. No horrific scene cut short (including images of rape, suicide, sadism, self mutilation, etc.). Both in their early teens, these two boys go from bright-eyed innocents to drug addicted, aids infected felons in a matter of weeks...and by the end of this movie, you'll feel quite the same. I had a hard time getting through this movie in one sitting and by the end I felt as though I'd really achieved something. But, regardless of how bad I've made it sound, this movie truly affected me. It made me want to run to the streets, locate the closest underage prostitute, throw my arms around him/her and tell them, "I understand what you've been through."
  • NOTE: According to the dictionary: Mandragora is 1) a plant of nightshade family: a plant with a forked root resembling a human body that was formerly believed to have magical powers and was made into a drug and 2) a 14th century alteration of medieval Latin mandragora, influenced by man, drake "dragon" (from its emetic and narcotic properties).

    MANDRAGORA, the astonishing film from the Czech Republic written by Wiktor Grodecki (who also directs) and David Svec (who also acts in the film), is aptly named: mandragora is the world of male prostitution that seduces young lads with promises of money and ultimately poisons them with the burning disease of loss of self respect and ultimately of life.Marek (Miroslav Caslavka in a stunning performance) is a beautiful 15-year-old kid from a little village in the Czech Republic who has aligned himself with petty criminals to have better things such as classy clothing, a lad whose single father (Jirí Kodes) demands he stay in school (yet is always in the background to salvage Marek's errant life situations) and who seems to be prepping his son for a better life. Marek hates school, which he sees as merely a path to be a welder like his father. The father and son collide after another crime spree and Marek leaves home for the big city promises of Prague.

    Once in Prague Marek is observed by the pimp Honza (Pavel Skripal) who follows Marek, knowing that Marek's future in the city is doomed without Honza's 'protection'. Within a day's time Marek's luck with the slot machines dries up and Honza convinces him to be his 'rabbit' - a male prostitute. Marek's first encounter with an American 'john' ends disastrously and the beaten Marek returns to the streets where he encounters a fellow hustler David (David Svec). Together they forge an alliance to escape Honza's compound and begin a life of successful prostitution. They are bonded (the probability of Marek's actually being gay and physically attracted to David is strong) and together they encounter all manner of unseemly characters involved in the underbelly of Prague's male prostitution life.

    Characters weave in and out of Marek's and David's life, each time leaving scars that grow more visible as does the threat of drug problems and AIDS. They eventually consent to embrace the lowest level of making gay porn where the cruel director forces Marek to be sodomized by David. They are raided by the police and Honza reappears as Marek's nemesis. Through a series of drug-induced hallucinations and dreams Marek envisions what his future holds and his descent is stamped. Yet at this point Marek's father journeys to Prague in search of his son, discovers his life style, is terrified and angry and tangentially passes Marek in a critical final scene that is devastatingly sad.

    This film is dark, frank, cruel, realistic, and sweats with the evil of the belly of the beast that is Prague's underworld. Yet the direction is so fine and, equally important, the acting by Miroslav Caslavka so sensitive that we as the audience are swept into an overwhelming compassion for these unfortunate lads whose seemingly only hope for a better life is one of humiliating degradation. MANDRAGORA is a no holds barred examination of a dark life that maintains a precarious balance between caricature and character development. Yes, it is lengthy at 126 minutes, in need of editing in areas, has faulty subtitles, and a strange musical score by Wolfgang Hammerschmid who extrapolates Puccini's 'Nessun dorma' and Bach's 'Erbarme dich' and 'Ruhe sanft' from the St Matthew Passion for heavy effects, and very dark cinematography by Vladimír Holomek, but despite these sidebar problems, they only slightly mar the overall impact of a very important film.

    Grady Harp
  • This isn't one of those movies you can pop in your DVD player or VCR anytime of the day and enjoy it. This isn't a movie you rent with your girlfriend to make out too. It's not a movie you would recommend to your friends, and it's not a movie you get a bag of popcorn and sit down with your family and enjoy. This movie will disturb you. This movie will make your stomach feel awful, hours and possibly days after you watch it.

    Marek is a troubled teenager who is having trouble at home and at school and he realizes he's much different than they are. His father finds out Marek has stopped going to school and tries to talk some sense into him. Talking turns into yelling and this pushes Marek further and further away and decides to runaway from home, which takes him into the dark underworld and streets of Prague. In Prague, Marek is drugged, raped and forced into a life of hustling for money, where AIDS is always a threat.

    It twists and turns down dark roads without a light and by the time the movie ends, you feel a little sick to your stomach. It's a side of life we're not used to seeing, we know it's there, but either we don't care or we realize we can't do anything to help make matters worse. Wiktor Grodecki makes you care. He shoves it right in your face in plain view. You have no choice but to look. Wiktor Grodecki pulls at your heartstrings and breaks your heart over and over throughout the movie.
  • charvana8 April 2003
    Warning: Spoilers
    Warning: could be spoiler (?).

    This was quite possibly one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. Although I wasn't expecting "Pretty Woman"-like pablum, I certainly wasn't expecting to have the scenes from, and emotions wreaked by, this film haunt me for days afterward. Everything from the scene with the teen girl prostitutes ("everyone has it") to the statue scene, to the movie scene, to the final shots in the train station platform & bathroom, as well as the loneliness, desperation, fear, resoluteness, madness, cocksuredness, apathy, greed, predation, depravity, futility/ inescapability and helplessness...

    This movie reminded me of Dawn: Portrait of a teenage runaway and Alexander: the other side of Dawn, and the companion movie, Sarah T.: portrait of a teenage alcoholic (Yay, the movies I remember from childhood...), but was much more graphic and brutal. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your take on it), none of the characters seems to learn anything from his (or her) experiences, and thus none are redeemed/ redeemable in any way.

    There wasn't a single completely sympathetic character in the whole film, although some of the main characters (David, Marek, the father) were fairly multi-dimensional: neither all good nor all bad. The father comes close to being a sympathetic character, but even his character is flawed; I particularly note his insensitivity to his son's pain, and his refusal to deal with the child's emotions regarding the absent (dead? run away?). Sure, his two bathroom scenes are touching, but one can only think of the kitchen scene (in his home), and how he dealt with his son in the flesh rather than as an abstract idea or through a surrogate-Marek.

    Marek and David are tragic products of their society, young men of little skill in a depressed economy, trading on their one marketable talent-- their smooth-skinned baby faces (and other body parts), yet they are likewise unsympathetic. Marek is a runaway, but from what, exactly? Sure, his father is cold and insensitive, but the home life doesn't come across as completely untenable. His feeling about his dad seems more like typical adolescent reaction to parental insensitivity, but certainly not something to resort to such desperate measures over. David's character is probably the most interesting; while he is self-seeking, he seems to be a friend to Marek in the best way he knows how (but still keeps his own needs forefront: if they conflict with Marek's best interest, "oh well"). David is the evolution of Marek, as Marek is the inevitable evolution of the final boy on the train platform.

    Some of the characters are caricatures, such as Krysa (and his family & home), Honza, the bar patrons in David's hometown, and the johns. They are overblown, noting particularly Krysa's arrest scene. This does not detract from the film, however, as the characters are more like amalgamations of characters than truly single persons.

    I felt incredibly drained after this film, part of this was not because of the characters portrayed in the film, but rather for the millions of unseen kids worldwide whose story this could be. From the runaways in the Haight and NYC and Seattle (and everywhere else) to the children (boys and girls) whose bodies are sold in the sex tour industry, from the people who sell their bodies to try to support their families in post-colonial, post-industrial, capitalist third world nations to those who sell their children to support their other children, this is their story in one way or another.

    The tragedy of this story is that it is true. Maybe not all of it for everyone, but it is true.
  • This movie seemed really harsh to me. I guess one of the reasons for that is that the main character Marek looks alike a person I used to know – someone I have lost actually – I won't get into many details. There were quite a few moments of this movie which were astonishing with their way of showing the reality out there. Reality which exists, but many are not ready to accept this fact.

    To me Marek is a normal teen-aged boy, who needs his own space – he is tired to hear from people who think that they know what is best for him. Unfortunately he should have listened to his dad – a person, who surely loves him, trough somehow the link between them was lost. There is emptiness in the heart of the boy – caused by the missing of his mother – I did not get if she died before or just left them, but somehow the fact she was not there was affecting Marek in a way which make me to think that he was more close to her than to his father.

    I can not blame him for running away , I myself have considered this opportunity several times and even seeing movies like that , seeing that it could be hard to survive couldn't quite affect my troughs that someday I may do it. The differences between me and Marek – he is more brave than me – he took his decision and acted on it. It is another question if his decision was silly or not … The first sexual scene is very disturbing – I felt sorry for the boy. I was watching the screen thinking "Now you have to go back ", but at the same time realizing that for him this was not an option. The scene at the bar – when he announced for a very first time his new profession is where you see the way he deals with it. I could hardly forget the way he spoke, as he approached the American tourist, the way he looked him – it seemed oddly professional – I don't really know what term to use to describe it.

    At the same time we see the other types of characters – the pimps, the boys, the clients – they are portrayed in greater details. Somehow even their face expression talked about their personality or at least it did to me.

    I passed trough a very similar place to this bar in which Marek was approached by the pimp for a first time. And you know as I looked into it – it seemed unbelievable how many were the similarities to what was shown in the movie. The only difference – the prostitutes were girls – but nothing more. When school as over I have to pass that places again (and 8 pm doesn't seem like the right time to do it – but I have no choice) – after seeing the movie it freaks me out a bit.

    But on to the movie – it is a masterpiece of Wiktor Grodecki, there is no doubt in this. I highly recommend that you watch it at least ones. And may be someday you will be able to make the difference for a boy like the ones shown in this movie – to take him out of his own hell he is living it. Even trough it is hard – as the boys seemed doomed to their destiny.
  • The seedy world of Czech gay prostitution and porn is given an uncompromising pasting in this chilling account of a provincial school boy's experiences when drawn to the big city. Yes, it is completely over the top. Virtually every character he meets is either violent, nasty, selfish or simply insane. A pimp terrorizes his boys like a 20th. century Fagin sending them out to service clients whilst keeping every dollar for himself and beating up any dissenters. A porn film maker expects his models to ejaculate to order in ten seconds whilst directly overlooked by his brood of pre-teenage daughters carrying mugs of coffee. Clients brutalize their boys with savage sadism and unspeakable perversion. These things may happen in isolated incidents but the broad mass of prostitution and porn is not quite as black as the film makes out. It is a cartoon image of filth that shocks the viewer into serious thought and conflicting emotions. It is absolutely brilliant.
  • When I first heard of this film, I was *slightly apprehensive* to say the least. Opinions seemed to be split, some loved it, some hated it, but I had it on good recommendations, so I bought it on the off chance.

    Normally when films are dubbed 'disturbing' it puts me off - they rarely are, this just seems to be a catch all for not very good films. But I sat and watched this, and I am totally in love. The acting is very good, they portray the emotions you would expect from someone in that situation beautifully. I never usually cry at films, but the raw desperation in their eyes made me sob several times.

    There is one reason that this film didn't get full marks from me, and it's a totally foolish Angil reason. There isn't enough of David Svec. I immediately fell in love with him, and remained so throughout the film. But too much of his screen time involves him beaten and bloody, although thinking now I guess that's just what his character's destined for. And he does wear it very well. So yeah, maybe it should have full marks... WATCH THIS FILM> <3 <3
  • Although certainly low-budget, a beautifully shot movie that provides a handful of scenes you'd never seen in a domestic flick (e.g. running down the staircase, the cigarette lighters in the train station). Should be a lesson to our blockbuster directors of what can be accomplished if one thinks a bit. It's a hard story to watch. And certainly fast-forwards time a bit (with some not too clear flashbacks and foreshadowings), but worth the effort if you enjoy a good, if a bit melodramatic, story.
  • Mandragora is a very rough, uncompromising film dealing with runaway teen boys from Prauge that end up selling their bodies to immoral, creepy old men that frequently abuse them. This is presented in a brutally honest and realistic fashion. Mandragora is taken from the point of view of our main character Marek. Marek is a lost wayward boy that runs away from home that was very vulnerable and easy prey for the various unsavory characters that hang out at the train station. He ends up working the streets and is exploited and poorly treated from the very beginning. Marek ends up befreinding the slighty more street smart David and together get in a lot of trouble. Things progress from bad to worst as the film goes on. Marek is a sympathetic character and the consciousness of the film. While he may be incredibly naive, he truly is not an inherently bad person. While his decisions are horrendous at best, he is victimized and brutalized by the human compost that occupies the nefarious underworld of Prauge. Marek is on a downward spiral path of self destruction and this film pulls no punches in its presentation. Mandragora is an extremely depressing film, but is very well done in capturing what these lost souls must endure. This may be the bleakest, most depressing film I have ever seen. While this absolutely is a strong film, it is not one I wish to rewatch and I am no lightweight. This may be the most bleak and hopeless film I have ever watched. I found this to be more disturbing than even Life Is Hot In Cracktown and A Serbian Film. This is truly rough stuff, definitely not for the squeamish.
  • Great Movie with some great gay interest scenes

    This story is about sexual exploitation and drugs with the vicious circle that the two often involve.

    The DVD cover and description make it quite clear what the film is about, so you are unlikely to watch it thinking it is a family movie or one for a romantic evening with your girlfriend, unless you are both very broadminded.

    It's sole purpose is not in my opinion to shock people into saying I must go and do whatever I can to help help those poor boys. If that it's sole purpose there would not be scenes of sex and full frontal nudity, there would be careful editing and avoidance of scenes that might upset some viewers.

    Whilst the storyline portrays under age boys in prostitution, those actors that you see nude or engaged in sex are clearly of legal age.

    The storyline has similarities to Christiane F, which was a film about a young teenage girl who also has to resort to selling herself for sex to get money for her increasing drug addiction. I think the sole intention of that film (based on the book) was to make people aware of the problem of drug addiction allegedly in the former east Germany at that time

    In this film the interests and sex varies from client to client from vanilla to quite extreme, the film would lack entertainment value and the viewer would loose interest without that in my opinion.

    As a gay interest film there some scenes which could be viewed by some as quite erotic, one example where the main actor Marek is nude on a rotating pedestal and a game of pool with strip poker like rules.

    Clearly exploitation of anyone is wrong and I don't condone the storyline to be acceptable, but sex, murder and crime attracts viewers and sells movies and books. The film is very brave in portraying the subject matter that it does and deserves a watch, perhaps more than once.
  • The elegantly filmed story provides a very thought provoking and heart wrenching look into the treacherous lives of runaway boys on the streets of Prague. Although this is the story of one runaway boy, it represents the stories of hundreds of runaways.

    The boy, Marek, runs away from his father, whom he feels is mean and does not understand him. He arrives in the big city of Prague where, because of a lack of money, he is immediately seduced/tricked into selling his body. What follows is the story of how he falls deeper into the underground world of prostitution, violence, porn and drugs.
  • The Polish director Wiktor Grodecki has largely dedicated his filmography to the depiction of young male prostitutes in Prague, and Mandragora is his first feature film after several documentaries. Thus, it seems very realistic, even for those not familiar with the topic/situation, and some unpleasant scenes seeming exaggerated are apparently not...

    Prague is considered as one of the finest cities in Europe, but we see only some of its beauty. The main venues are railway stations, cheap hotels, bedroom suburbs... Still, some customers and their dwelling places are wealthy, and so the misery of the boys is particularly stressed, plus the inclusion of AIDS, booze and drugs being accustomed to people in porn and escort business. Due to this and the existence of pimps, the real "workers" never become wealthy, but, contrary to common belief, it is not easy money, particularly if your sexual orientation is different. The plot, however is not smooth, and some performances are excessive, although the main characters are well elaborated and boldly performed (e.g. Marek, David, Krysa). The ending is distinctive and witty, but a bit fictitious to me.

    True, I am sure that circumstances have changed with the appearance of the Internet, with less "dealings" on the streets and bigger awareness of dangers and diseases, but still, Mandragora can be regarded as a good warning film to both those eager to engage themselves in prostitution and those eager to take on sex trips to economically less countries.
  • Its a true story. Story is really the most depressing of all the movies i have seen. And its a beautifully made movie.

    See how human beings can become beasts. I thought there is no God in the world where this can happen.

    What should i say more u have to see it urself. I saw the movie 3-4 months back but its still very fresh on my mind.

    Marek (protagnist), age 16, goes to Prague (a big city) where he and so many of his age group from smaller towns end up being prostitutes. People from richer countries of europe and US come there and exploit these poor boys.
  • Grodecki's recent fascination with the Prague teen rent boy scene translates better as fantasy fiction than documentary. First of all, it protects Grodecki from accusations of gross exploitation of his subjects and secondly it allows for greater transparency of the film maker's obsessions and the way he uses his craft. His themes come through - innocents, childhood, corruption. Morality and excess. Crime and punishment. His perspective is naive - everything is black and white, dark and light, the good and the bad; the fairy tale aesthetic which has a history both in Czech sensibility and Czech cinema. It's an odd combination of children's television meets xxx hard core gay porn. (Grodecki is Polish, so he could stand accused of Romantizing Czechs with a cliché image.) He gets closer to the boys' story through fiction, a story he betrayed in Body Without Soul. The monstrous film pornographer is interestingly no less a caricature as a fictional person as he was as himself (see Body Without Soul) Some of the surface of the present day Czech republic (2005) is etched away so we see what ordinary life is really like and this is actually more interesting than the whole street hustler drama which we've all seen a thousand times. The portrayal of gay people as demonic corrupting monsters or as victims is depressingly prevalent. An outrage, considering recent developments. Admittedly, a lot broods in Czech society, and a lot is wrong. But there is a healthy and vibrant gay culture in the Czech republic. There is also a healthy, celebrated and established gay porn industry which is not dangerous, illegal or questionable. Recently Prague gay porn stars passed through London book stores on a world tour ! This is a good thing when you take into account the regressive gender attitudes prevailing in Poland, Belarus & the Ukraine. We see none of this perspective. Again, so much missing.....
  • A cautionary tale, a morality fable, "The Perils of Pauline", "Justine" for the modern age: Madragora is all of these and...less. The sexual exploitation of the young is epidemic in the most economically depressed areas of the world: this we know. It's a pity that an important subject is reduced to set scenes straight out of a silent movie. Really, all that is missing are a few moustache twirls from the villains. The descent of Marek from poverty to absolute misery is cliché and handled with all the subtlety of a jack-hammer. It was the director's duty to find a new way, a more subtle way, of illustrating the all too real plight of so many young people. He fails completely.
  • Although some viewers want to "laugh it up", this is really not that bad. OK, some scenes may be silly, but some are really like a shot right into head... I really had to stop the movie at the beginning of the scene with Krysa. His family around, children, while in the bedroom he is filming two boys having sex. Well, thank you, I must take a deep breath first... Our young hero is not well acted, he is too naive, um, too stupid... Actually I didn't like him and I didn't care for him... Until that scene with Krysa. It really is memorable scene. OK, this is not very good good movie, but not bad either. And is really special, especially for Czech movies.
  • A friend pressed the DVD to this film in my hands and said, "laugh it up! This is an old-time exploitation movie, like 'Reefer Madness.'" Slogging through the relentlessly depressing story, I have to agree.

    Blonde boy protagonist leaves his small Czechoslovakian town to become a boy prostitute. Nothing goes right, and he winds up a drug-addled, AIDS-infected suicide in a matter of days! Like the exploitation films of yore, it graphically depicts the Wages of Sin while simultaneously filling the screen with Sin, glorious Sin. It's too bad it's such a downer, best viewed in 20-minute increments.
  • After the expectations that Polish filmmaker Wiktor Grodecki created with his documentaries «Not Angels, But Angels» and «Body Without Soul», the melodrama «Mandragora» gave a lackluster conclusion to his trilogy about homosexual prostitution and pornography in Prague. In the story of Marek Nedela (Miroslav Caslavka), the fifteen-year-old boy who arrives in the Czech capital and psychically and physically degrades before turning 16, there are no traces of originality or anything that Grodecki did not show us before, in the two documentaries, with the added value of seeing and hearing the testimonies said by real characters.

    Here he tells a story by the book, as he follows one by one the steps of Marek's degradation, since the day he arrives at the Prague station and is approached by a pimp (Pavel Skripal), who later sells him to a horny old man. It does not take long before we watch typical scenes: the transvestite cabaret, the rivalry between the little prostitutes, entanglements with the police, beatings, robberies, sessions with a pornographer... This time Grodecki (who wrote the script with the collaboration of David Svec, a teenager who plays Marek's only friend) introduced the figure of a father, Marek's working class father, but his presence provides little more than moments of crying, shouting and beatings.

    The gimmicky and manipulative aesthetic strategy did not change at all by the third round. For «Mandragora», the director hired the services of German composer Wolfgang Hammerschmid who, at the helm of the Munich symphony orchestra, provided him with music from start to finish. Grodecki did not cast aside, of course, the classics or the little rock and roll numbers here and there. In a strict definition of melodrama, the music almost does not stop in this alarming drama. Like the two documentaries, it has very few moments of silence or exclusive use of the background noise. Like those other two works, "Mandragora" is not without interest, but revels in its own sexist moralism and sensationalism.