The film follows Czech student of history and political economy Jan Palach in the last couple of months of his life, before he decided to immolate himself in protest of the Soviet Union invasion in 19. January 1969. It shows Jan Palach on the basis of available factual sources, and forces us to think about the young man’s thoughts and actions. Jan Palach didn’t tell anybody about his decision in advance. Nor did he suggest that he was capable of such a thing. In the film, we can see him in a relationship with his girlfriend, Helenka, his relationship with mother in Všetaty and a tumultuous student’s life in 1968. He is experiencing student brigades in Kazakhstan and France. He goes to school, watches everything and keeps silent. Just as autumn 1968 changes the public life, the streets and people's expressions, something changes inside Jan. How come nobody noticed this? His girlfriend, mother, classmates? Even that morning, Jan took a snack from his mom, joked at the dormitory with his roommate, and before going out to the city, he took a shower. Throughout the film, the camera follows Jan's face and captures moments of the big decision ...
My rating of the film is positive and I would give it 8/10 stars. I truly appreciate the camera, design and music. Overall, it’s a powerful story with raw and very authentic portrayal of the Soviet occupation, bringing the audience very unpleasant feelings. On one hand, it is a nice biographic film about an average boy who had lived his dream at the university. On the other hand, there’s the horrifying atmosphere, the ubiquitous hopelessness and injustice that brought Jan to the desperate act that had deeply written down in the history of Czech country. The biggest flaw is the picture of the Prague Spring, because the great disappointment after August 1968 could be really shown only by comparing it to a great expectations before the invasion of Warsaw Pact army.
Director Sedláček made a decent film that pleased me in several aspects. At the same time, however, he didn’t get much out of the clutter of the Czech mainstream, and so I favor the film in details rather than the overall complexity and coherence of the work as such. Firstly, I have to praise the cast of the lead role. Sedláček wanted to avoid well-known Czech actors and managed to get a convincing performance from an unknown actor Viktor Zavadil. His consistently suffering face expression has its merit and contributes to the slightly enigmatic atmosphere that Sedláček is constantly trying to induce.
We can feel in many scenes of this movie how its creators wanted to reach particular impression in those scenes. Because of that the movie lacks the lightness and naturalness that could carry the audience to the end credits.
In my opinion, the final scenes are well done and it is the reason to watch it to the end. It is impossible not to compare the film Jan Palach to the film Hořící Keř (Burning Bush), although each of the films tells the opposite part of the story. I can´t say that film Jan Palach is bad. But for me, Burning Bush is a brilliant work, while Jan Palach is only a very good film.