I Want You If You Dare
(Czech Republic, 89 min.)
Dir. Dagmar Smržová
Program: International Spectrum
This compelling film tracks the loving relationship between Jana, an adult woman severely disabled by cerebral palsy, and Martina, her mercurial alcoholic mother. Jana wants two things: to exchange her home environment for residence in a facility, even though she loves her mother, and to have a first sexual encounter.
Martina is devoted to Jana, carting her to town in a portable bed and happy to share everything with her, including her cigarettes and beer, and Jana loves her back, verbally jousting with her. Martina is troubled by Jana’s desire to test out a residence for disabled people, but she does agree to let her try one out. And Martina does arrange for a number of sexual surrogates.
What unfolds is a meditation on what a determined mother with few financial resources can do to give her daughter love and a meaningful life.
The film has a bit of a wonky structure, starting by establishing Jana’s connections with her twin sister, who was born blind–their relationship is typical of siblings, grumpy and playful–and with her mother. Suddenly, we’re with a number of very buff guys talking about the adult entertainment business and then in the midst of a live sex show. It’s only later that we learn that these are the surrogates Martina has hired for Jana.
Their encounters with Jana, none of which are sexually explicit (although the live sex shows are fairly graphic), have a lovely delicacy. The men are gentle, talking tenderly to Jana, gently holding her permanently clenched hand. It’s not clear that Jana gets the sexual pleasure she’s hoping for from every one of them but a beautiful scene with a tantric sex specialist suggests she does.
Some of the narrative problems arise from the fact that Martina’s personal story gets so much screen time, which is understandable, given its details. She got pregnant during her punk rock days and her lover vanished as soon as she told him. She gave birth to two children with disabilities but found ways, sometimes aided by the state, to care for them, all the time continuing her prodigious consumption of alcohol and weed.
She is a charismatic character who has difficulty maintaining her own love relationships, and you get the sense that the director could not resist her story. Some scenes, one in which she visits the hard-hearted mother of Jana’s birth father and others with her current unreliable boyfriend, are not necessary.
And fascinating Martina notwithstanding, it’s the wonderful Jana who remains the inspiring centrepiece for this film She’s extremely smart, very funny and able to stand up for herself and others; watch her defend her non-verbal roommate at the facility her mother denigrates. When Jana describes her life, she’s philosophical and accepting, all the while refusing to be pitied.
Credit director Smržová for giving her subjects space to express themselves, consistently treating them with deep respect.
I Want You If You Dare screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.