Review: Owners


Have you ever wondered what goes on in the meetings of a home owners’ association? If you live in a condominium, a gated community, a co-op, or similar arrangement where there are rules that govern what owners can do, or where there are common spaces/resources that need to be overseen by the owners, then there is probably a board made up of volunteers who meet periodically to discuss issues and take association action.

This concept is at the heart of “Owners,” a Czech comedy about one particular meeting of such a group. Here, we have in microcosm all the foibles, frailties, and cruelties of any community.

Mrs. Zahradkova (Tereza Ramba – “Laputa”) and her husband are late for the owners meeting of the building where they live. When they arrive with two kids in tow, many of the owners are already present. This is unfortunate, since Mrs. Z is the HOA board president. She calls the meeting to order, and suggests they open with introductions. And so the fun begins.

We soon learn that there are many different types of people present:

    • The president – Eager to present serious information about the condition of the building and the need to take immediate action.
    • The stickler – A person for whom the letter of the regulations, bylaws and rules of order is more important than any progress that might be made.
    • The uninterested – An elderly man who attends the meeting, but has his nose in a book, contributes nothing, and doesn’t participate in any votes.
    • The longtime resident – A man who couches everything in “the way things were before” and “how we used to do it.” He has a vested interest in nothing changing.
    • The blocker – If a change doesn’t benefit her personally she is opposed – unless she can be paid off.
    • The young newcomer – He votes the way he is told by a more seasoned member.
    • The nosey neighbor – Her principle interest is the lives of the other owners and the ways in which she disapproves of them.
    • The son representing an ailing parent – He has no real interest in the meeting, and cannot be bothered to pay close attention, continually confusing the voting process.
    • The new members – They recently inherited their father’s apartment and appear to be interested, but have ulterior motives.
    • The tightwad – If it costs anything, she is opposed.

Now, imagine all these disparate personalities gathered together in one place and trying to decide on anything. That is the essence of this comedy. However, the feeling of frustration evinced by the president and, in turn, by many of the other owners as they take their turns attacking or being attacked, eventually becomes unnerving. Can nothing be solved?

Based on his play, writer/director Jiri Havelka (“Emergency Situation”) has perfectly delineated each of these characters, and then brought them to life with his direction. It’s a lively meeting, with owners often interacting with multiple others at the same time. And, while the action of the film is restricted to an austere, rented meeting room, on one wall there is a print of a stag being torn to pieces by a pack of dogs. This is brought to our attention when, at one point, when the president has resigned and stormed out of the room, it unexpectedly crashes to the floor.

The film is in Czech, with English subtitles. The dialog often comes fast and furious, and it becomes very difficult to keep up with who is saying what. This is especially unfortunate because you cannot also keep an eye on the character’s expressions.

Despite that, if you are looking for a European comedy with an edge (and perhaps a moral), you will find it in “Owners.”

Runtime: One hour, 37 minutes
Availability: NYC, Aug. 18; LA, Aug. 25

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