The two best films I've seen at the New York Film Festival so far have been from Eastern Europe. First there was Romania’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu which, as I detailed earlier, is a work of rare power and generosity. And now comes Something Like a Happiness, a deceptively easy-going film from the Czech Republic that, though its scope is much smaller than that of Mr. Lazarescu, also manages the same magical trick of finding hope in the midst of disappointment.
Something Like Happiness is built around a grim housing block in an unnamed Czech city. The city is dingy and grey, dominated by a nuclear plant that endlessly spews smoke into the sky. It's often terribly cold, and almost everyone is poor. Monika's (Tatiana Vilhelmová) family is the most well-off, able to regularly afford groceries and willing to splurg on a tiny new digital video camera for Christmas. Still, Moni is not privileged. She works in what appears to be the Czech version of Target, and is waiting for her recently-departed boyfriend to send her a ticket so that she can join him in California. Upstairs lives her friend Dasha (Anna Geislerová, who brings some of Katrin Cartlidge's dangerous intensity to her role), a single mother with two sons, a married boyfriend, and a filthy, often foodless apartment. Also in the building are Tonik's (Pavel Liska) parents. Though the ragged Tonik now lives with an aunt in his grandfather’s old house, he grew up with Monika and his constant presence indicates a helpless devotion to her, despite her love of another.