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  • Agnieszka Holland's new historical miniseries, about the 1969 public self-immolation of Prague student Jan Palach and the ensuing fallout, is possibly the biggest triumph of her career.

    As with the recent trend of films like Carlos, certain miniseries are being given limited runs in theaters when they were helmed from beginning to end by a well-respected art-house circuit director.

    At nearly four hours, Burning Bush is hardly a chore to watch, though. It's a breakneck historical epic, political thriller, and courtroom drama all rolled into one. The result is some sort of cinematic Czech national anthem, but also a reminder to anyone of the limitless potential one act of seemingly-futile protest can have against injustice.

    The story is a dazzling juggling act of a large cast of vibrant and fascinating characters. From beginning to end it's consistently powerful without needing to resort to mustache-twirling villains or faultless heroes.
  • UrbanRatt28 October 2013
    I just viewed this at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and I am still reeling. This movie packs a wallop, I was on the edge of my seat for the whole viewing. The four-plus hours (including two well-timed intermissions) flew by. The Burning Bush is well worth your time.

    The story has multiple characters, is complicated and intricate. In light of the current attention given to bullying, this is a primer of institutional and political bullying against private citizens by an occupying force, and of how that poison spread to local government officials. The depth of emotions, the short-sightedness of those in control, and the long-term fallout of decisions are all explored in depth.

    Holland's deft hand at keeping these many balls in the air, of not going overboard with personalities, and in maintaining the viewer's interest, is the sign of a true master. The cinematography, pacing, and acting are superb. This exploration of the power of martyrdom, or, better stated, the making of a martyr, is most powerful because it presents various points of view and subsequent decisions made, radiating outwards from Jan Palach's desperate act of defiance.

    If you have the chance to see this, make the time.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    it is a special film. work of a great director, it represents testimony for a dark moment of history. so, it is a film for soul. with special sense for East European sensitivity. a movie about parts of fight for truth. about heroic gesture as seed for fundamental change of persons and gestures. about courage, sacrifices, price of honesty and need of force for resist in war against evil. it is not exactly an art work because it is not adaptation of novel or result of fiction. it is a form, great, admirable, bitter, salt of remember. and this virtue is fundamental to understand and admire it. the deep impression - it is fruit of duty. after 22 years, Communism risks be only shadow. cold. and ambiguous. the frustrations of many men and woman, the young generation perception, the economic crisis makes it insignificant. Agnieszka Holland film is a warning. a wake - up signal. a protest against forgiveness. maybe, a manifesto. so, it is important to watch it ! believe me !
  • This is not just the story of Jan Palach and his self-immolation in protest against the political oppression of the communists in Czechoslovakia 1969 but also the story of many people involved in his case, especially his mother.

    There are some extremely sensitive scenes in this tremendous film of how political oppression works with its fatal immeasurable consequences for individuals, whose lives more often than not are ruined by bureaucrats who are unaware of it but victims themselves of the system.

    The mother here is an ordinary elderly lady, one of hundreds of thousands of mothers whose sufferings, fates and quiet martyrdom never become known, but the focus of this film is lifting forth this mother with an overwhelming impression on those who must empathize with her. It's the most difficult part, and the actress playing her is more than just convincing - it is, as Polanski would have termed it, totally organic. The psychological torture she is subjected to for suing the authorities for slandering her son after his suicide is more cruel than any physical torture and must break her to mind and soul.

    This film is almost documentary in its detailed psychological account of this sensitive case with all its victims and at the same time a masterpiece of suspense. I have never seen anything like it, while closest to it might be Margaretha Von Trotta's similar psychological insightful next-to documentaries of human suffering under autocracies of mental cruelty more severe and evil than any ordinary open cruelty for its carefully intentional inhumanity.

    Still, Agnieszka Holland makes you understand all these pawns of fate as no more than human caught up in the human destructiveness of totalitarianism, which gets worse the longer it lasts, the only comfort of which is that it is always doomed.

    The original film is almost 4 hours, there is a slightly abbreviated version of only 3, but it is well worth acquiring the longer version.
  • A powerful story about the events surrounding the self-immolation of a Czech student Jan Palach. He protested against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by setting himself on fire and his single act became a timeless rallying symbol against the Soviet invasion and the subsequent oppression by the communist establishment.

    The film is exquisite in how it combines historic events, inner struggles of the main characters, courtroom drama, investigative techniques and deep divisions in the society. Realistic acting and the portrayal of Prague and Czech villages, domestic and institutional scenes deserve much of the credit for keeping you interested through the three main stories interwoven with many characters.

    Bravery and activism are contrasted with lethargy, deceit and self-preserving acts of betrayal that each citizen faced in their own way. The choices that the characters had to make had implications on their families, colleagues and on their conscience. The young lawyer who makes a decision for a moral stand that will affect the well being of her family. The brave students who look for ways to honour Palach's sacrifice at a great risk to themselves. The policeman who enforces the will of the regime while struggling with his own integrity until he can no longer take it and defects. The journalist, the nurse, the teacher and many others who face such pressure to side with the regime that they choose a betrayal over telling the truth.

    All the elements of this movie work well together - the dialog, acting, screen writing and cinematography.

    A history lesson well worth the 4+ hours of running time of this 3-part movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The abbreviation of Agnieszka Holland's Burning Bush from a Czech TV miniseries to a feature film over three hours long is a compelling experience. The film starts with Prague student Jan Palach burning himself alive in 1969 to protest the Russian suppression of Czechoslovakia. It proceeds to detail the Czechs' support for the brave young nationalist and their government's attempts to smother his effect, for fear of more Russian intrusion.

    The tyranny tries to change the dead hero into an unstable dupe. When a government official slanders the dead boy his mother and a student movement leader sue him. Their lawyer's initial reluctance to take on the case proves justifiable when she's haunted by cops, her doctor husband is pressured out if his hospital job and her long-term trusted partner betrays her to save his activist student daughter from persecution.

    The film shows what massive pressure a tyrannical state can put on its citizens. A history teacher can be promoted to principal. A nurse can be blackmailed into lying. A journalist can be pressured to refuse to testify. The judge can be threatened with banishment to North Moravia. A cemetery manager can be ordered to remove the hero's grave and incinerate the corpse so no trace of him is left.

    Except his name and his story, which 20 years later remained a force behind Czechoslovakia's rip away from Russia.

    The film has a happy ending but it's in the epilogue titles, not in the narrative. The plot leaves the tyranny transcendent and justice denied. As the sued politician explains, in politics the truth is what best suits the needs of the people, i.e., the government. So even the taped recording of the politician's slanders doesn't sway the compromised judge from accepting his lies in the hearing.

    This is an important film. It speaks to young Czechs and Slovaks who may not know their nations' past. That's a valuable history lesson throughout the world. Perhaps it is especially significant now that Vladimir Putin is rattling the Russian chains again, trying to lure the Ukraine back into the fold and tossing dissidents like Pussy Riot and his political rivals into jail. This is a timely warning. For more see
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Agnieszka Holland's Burning Bush (2013) is a first rate dramatic production with a solid screenplay, great acting by the whole cast, great direction, and great cinematography.

    No "implied message" or esoteric symbolism was necessary here, because the literal, historical storyline had it all up front in spades.

    I read the Wiki article about Czech Jan Palach, and this historical docudrama hit all the salient historical points about this brave young patriot's dramatic self sacrifice and its aftermath. Obviously this screenplay stretched quite a bit to fill in the historical details with contrived dramatic scenes, but I myself detected no unreal embellishments or exaggerations relating to the basic historical facts. This film was very realistic and the screenwriter obviously felt that the simple, literal story of Jan Palach was just good enough to sell itself.

    Overall, this film is a very engaging and compelling drama about the Czech people's enduring struggles in the face of the invasion of their country by Soviet troops in 1968, and the severe Soviet repression in its aftermath.

    This dramatic production was originally a three segment made for TV mini-series that was strung together here as a continuous 4+ hour film. But the drama is so riveting and compelling that the time just flew by.
  • a special film. a real special film. for the artistic virtues. for the case of Jan Palach, who becomes more than a page of history behind the Iron Curtain. for atmosphere and for the mechanism of political system. and for the rhythm of a story of survive and conscience, courage and fears. it is easy to say than a film by Margarethe von Trotta is , always, a revelation as new perspective about old, known facts. but "Burning Bush" has the science to explain not a case but a reality, the same in the Communist camp, but, in same measure, profound Czechoslovakian . because its virtue is its honesty. to show the pain and fight and idealism of a period. the terror of authorities. the importance of society word. the vulnerability. and pure emotions. more than touching or impressive, it is an useful film. this fact defines it. and transforms it in proof of the basic virtues of humankind.