Saturday, May 28, 2022

Tormented Souls

This provincial Austro-Hungarian-era Czech town could relate to a lot of college campuses today. Anti-Semitism is rife, often manifesting in “blood libels.” Consequentially, when a bullying officer is murdered, the local authorities are only too eager to arrest a Jewish man for the crime. However, Superintendent Albert Mondl from Vienna is more concerned with evidence in Jiri Svoboda’s Czech TV-produced Tormented Souls (a.k.a. A Soul to Redeem), which airs on the Euro Channel.

Four years ago, the “heroic” colonel nearly ran over Kacov’s son. When the accused protested, the drunken officer gave him a lashing that left visible scars. Inconveniently, Kacov’s happens to be a kosher butcher, so when someone slashes the Colonel’s throat, the local police automatically arrest Kacov.

Of course, as soon as Mondl arrives, he can tell they have no case. The killer made a messy job of it, unlike a professional butcher’s work. Nobody likes it, but Mondl releases Kacov and proceeds to run a real investigation. However, his attention is diverted by Lea Stein, a gifted violinist, who remains deeply traumatized by her mother’s supposed suicide.

is an effective portrayal of early Twentieth Century anti-Semitism and an intriguing character study of the principled Mondl. However, screenwriter Vladimir Korner fails to develop the potentially creepy revelation that all three victims were involved in an ambiguously satanic secret society. Instead, it rushes to a forced and unsatisfying conclusion.

The suspense is weak, but the period procedural stuff is not bad. Milan Knazko (who had a small part in
Hostel: Part II) is terrific as Mondl, creating a compelling portrait of jaded refinement. Agi Gubik is equally engaging as Alma, the innkeeper who is instructed to “take care of him,” in a very hospitable kind of way. However, they form unlikely bond over their mutual concern for Stein.

In fact, the entire ensemble is quite strong. The narrative is just too simplified. Frankly, the ironic implications of a satanic cult club exploiting Christian prejudices against their Jewish neighbors could have been a rich vein to mine. There are a lot of missed opportunities, but it is still interesting (and encouraging) to see Svoboda and Korner address these themes for a Czech audience. Earning a moderate recommendation,
Tormented Souls airs 5/29, 6/7, 6/9, 6/15, 6/20, and 6/22 on Euro Channel (and it streams on Tubi).