Based off Simon Mawer's Man Booker prize-winning and bestselling novel of the same name, 'The Glass Room' teaches a valuable lesson when it comes to eliciting sympathy through dramatic events: simply placing your characters and setting amongst life obstacles and horrific historical events does not automatically generate the desired outpouring of emotion. More often than not - if not every time - a film needs to rely on so much more to give it the heartfelt impetus a story of this nature deserves. Characters need to be fleshed out, their desires need understanding, and the audience needs to believe in their actions, even if they're unable to empathise with them. Unfortunately, with 'The Glass Room', Julius Ševčík's ('Normal') attempt falls incredibly short in all of these areas, and we are left with a soulless, albeit beautiful, film.
Czechoslovakia in the early 1930s is full of culture, modern expression and hope. Liesel Landauer (Hanna Alström, 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'), recently married to Viktor (Claes Bang, 'The Square'), hires famous architect Von Abt (Karel Roden, 'Hellboy', 'RocknRolla') to construct their new family home - a minimalist modern villa that overlooks the town of Brno, built with steel, magnificent stone, and the pièce de résistance, a floor-to-ceiling glass room at its centre. The warmth and idealism that embodies the home begins to crumble as Viktor finds his comfort in the arms of another woman, and Liesel follows the fatal attraction of her best friend, Hana (Carice van Houten, TV's 'Game of Thrones', 'Valkyrie'). What begins as a home filled with optimism and happiness slowly erodes as Czechoslovakia falls at the hands first of the Nazis, then of the Russians, and Liesel and her family are forced to flee.
As time passes by, audiences witness the glory of the house pass through its different owners, from a family home to a Nazi engineer's office, and finally as a museum. What the Glass Room itself represents can be left to various interpretations, but whatever conclusion you come to, Ševčík instead opts to focus more on the bond being forged between Liesel and Hana. 'The Glass Room' looks to explore how love can transcend all obstacles and at any distance, but as the story fails to really capture any of that emotion, what's left is a rather incoherent mess of an otherwise promising premise.
'The Glass Room' is filled with so many "almost" moments that could have otherwise made for a brilliant film. There are so many interesting and potentially heartbreaking moments that the characters face, but they are either given no room to breathe or lack any conviction that warrants sympathy. I found myself constantly playing catch-up with the new characters we meet in the new timeframes, so much so that by the time I had figured out where we were, the film had picked up and moved somewhere else. Months or years pass by at a distracting rate, in a complete detriment to the audience's understanding of the weight of the events. Viktor starts an affair with someone who I think we are meant to know, which, whilst is meant to add to the gravity of his sin, only fuels the confusion when she seems to always be around the family home. Likewise with the central love story of the film between Hana and Liesel, Hana's initial presence is given no explanation, which wouldn't usually matter, except that when you're left with so many questions, you start to ask yourself if any of these plot points will become important - only to be too late to the party when they invariably are. Whilst Liesel and Hana's passion sometimes feels real, and their longing for one another can be felt at times throughout, ultimately it felt mostly surface level and lacks the heart you want in a story like this.
'The Glass Room' looks to explore how love can transcend all obstacles and at any distance, but as it fails to really capture any of that emotion, what's left is a rather incoherent mess of an otherwise promising premise.
The tragedy here is that genuinely, at the heart of this film, is a much much better film trying to come out. You watch this film and can't help but think that there is at least an extra hour of footage left on the cutting room floor that would have really helped raise the bar. This story spans decades and sees such drastic changes occur to the characters that you just can't communicate to the best of your ability in a mere 100 minutes. The pacing is miles off what a film of this weight really needs, having no understanding of where it needed to spend its time. Unfortunately, because of this, it becomes impossible to rally behind the star-crossed lovers on their journeys.
However, 'The Glass Room' is not all bad, and certainly not a write-off. Cinematographer Martin Strba captures some absolutely stunning shots that, if nothing else, makes this film really beautiful to watch. The acting is likewise great, aided by a stellar cast and solid performances, but you feel a bit bad for them given what little they have to work with. The costumes and set designs really add to the period feel of the film, and you certainly feel transported to war-torn Europe. Overall, the production value is incredibly high, and ends up being the film's saving grace.
While falling short of the desired celebration that love conquers all, 'The Glass Room' still has some interesting plot points that may fare better in the novel it's based off. Given more time and a stronger, more coherent script, there is enough here to suggest that this is a story worth telling, but this isn't it. Stunning yet mostly soulless, 'The Glass Room' might leave audiences asking for more, but not because what was initially served was so tasty in the first place.