Sixteen year old Marek (Mirek Caslavka) leaves his dreary small town life for the beautiful but treacherous streets of Prague, a city where everything can be had for a price. He is quickly lured by a greasy pimp into sell... more »ing his body to the many tourists who flock to the city for its cathedrals, castles and tender male flesh. Emboldended by his clear marketability (he's gorgeous), Marek and his handsome streetwise buddy David decide to enter the teen flesh trade on their own. But kinky johns, all too available drugs and their own self destructive natures propel them instead into a hellish world in which the instinct to survive is their only hope. Directed by leading Czech filmmaker Wiktor Grodecki (Not Angels But Angles, Body Without Soul), Mandragora is based on true stories with a mostly non-professional cast (including actual prostitutes) and shot on the streets, train stations, and sex clubs of Prague.« less
"What "Pusher" did for the drug trade, "Mandragora" does for teenage male prostitution. It's an incredibly brutal and honest look at the life of a Czechoslovakian boy who runs away to Prague in order to escape an unhappy home life in a small town. Little does he know he had it very good at home. The film is incredibly graphic on all counts, but needs to be to make its point. This is not a film for children or the squeamish as there is full-frontal nudity, depictions of graphic sex, extreme violence, sadism, drug use, self-mutilation and suicide. It's an excellent film, but definitely not a happy film. In and of itself, this film rates 5 stars.Now let's discuss the DVD itself. It's terrible. The studio that released this film, Water Bearer, apparently did so without love or care for this film, just the possibility of making some fast money. The print used for this transfer skips in several places (this is really unacceptable as the film is only four years old as of this writing), and could use some cleaning up and remastering (too many scratches and artifacts). Some darker scenes suffer from some very visible digital transfer problems. The sound is poor through some passages, resulting in background bass "thumps" whenever the characters speak. The English subtitles are riddled with blatant spelling errors, typographical errors and very poor grammar, most likely translated by someone for whom English is not a first language. A few scenes in English are subtitled in Czech, for some unknown reason. And, although this doesn't bear on the film directly, there are no extras. You either view the film in its entirety, select one of seven incredibly long chapter stops which will have you hitting the fast-forward button in frustration, and that's it! No interviews, no commentaries, no trailers, no talent files, nothing. So buy this DVD for the story alone and you won't be disappointed. Expect more and you'll be sorry."
Excellent and intense film
Claude Bouchard Jr. | 11/11/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story of a Czech runaway's descent into the world of drugs and male prostitution. If you ever bought a Bel Ami video, this might make you think twice about the world that these boys come out of. Excellent acting, good story, might be too intense for many. Makes _Basketball Diaries_ look like a Disney movie, so beware."
The Belly of the Beast
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 08/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 'Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder' 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, August 05
Realistic Gay Horror
Hulka | 07/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before deciding to view this film, I had researched much of the background about the director and actors involved with this production. This film's first objective, I believe, is to expose the humiliating and degrading underbelly of underaged male prostitution and the horrors of the gay porn industry. But it also succeeds in evoking amazing thought processes in the mind of the astute viewer, who will be questioning whether this realistic depiction is truly believable. In the end, the viewer will realize that it is. Anyone who cannot feel pity for the youth who are sucked into this terrifying, unforgiving realm must need to have their head examined.A necessary word about the DVD edition, not at all impressive folks. The print used was obviously well played with no attempt to correct film artifacts or sound distortion. This is only mildly distracting, mostly at reel changes, and shouldn't discourage anyone who is interested in the subject from viewing the film. And don't expect any bonus materials either, there are none. I suppose we should be grateful that Waterbearer at least makes the film available, but how unfortunate that some background about the director, screenwriters, actors and others was not at least attempted. Grossly overpriced for what you get, rent it instead, if you can find it, and keep your fingers crossed for a more expanded version soon. You WILL want to view it again with some friends."
Strong stuff, beautifully acted and directed....
Hulka | Washington DC | 05/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a complicated movie, with a dark subject, but a powerful one, worth lingering over. The movie charts the fall from innocence of 15 year old Marek into personal ruin and death after he runs away from home to Prague.
Despite the very sad plot, the movie is strongly voyeuristic. Ostensibly a moral tale warning of the pitfalls of the gay teen boy prostitution scene, the viewer will find himself fascinated as they watch this sweet boy be stripped of his small town innnocence, and sink into total debravity. Just as Marek achieves some level of stability, he is drawn down shortly into the next step of the personal disaster to which he is destined. Against his better judgement, Marek's lack of self-esteem causes him to be drawn into increasingly serious mistakes in judgement, until he reaches his final ruin.
Ostensibly about Prague's gay teenage prostitution scene, the movie is also an allegory about Czechoslovakia itself. If you understand Czech history, you'll recognize it in this movie. The Czech people struggled for hundreds of years to achieve national self-determination, only to have it smashed by the degradation of Hitler's Munich. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Czech Nation fell into the clutches of Stalinist Communism. The "Prague Spring" was ruthlessly repressed by Soviet invasion. The fall of Soviet Union only led to the disasterous 'privatization' as national symbols and assets of Czech pride were sold to Western Capitalists and Russian Oligarchs. Eastern European, and particularly Czech movies, all seem to have morose themes which I attribute to the tragic history of these societies.
The performances of the principle actors, David Svec and Miroslav Caslavka are outstanding. You'll fall in love with them both! And no one is a better director of the dark movie then director, Wiktor Grodecki. The music score is a great assortment of classical music that complements the dark plot. The photography of of backstreet Prague and rural Bohemia is worth the price of admission alone.
Because I ended up watching this movie several times, and picked up new things each time I watched it, I've given it 5 stars. This movie has a message, and unlike so much stuff out there is well worth your time to absorb it."