“Burning Bush” is an absorbing Cold War thriller

In the early days of 1969 in Prague, a college student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in order to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

The cascading aftermath of that event forms the spine of “Burning Bush,” Agnieszka Holland’s absorbing Cold War thriller that dramatizes, with observant detail and often devastating emotion, the personal and political costs of a society’s descent into crushing totalitarianism.

Tatiana Pauhofova plays Dagmar Buresova, a young attorney who is drawn into Palach’s story when she’s hired by the martyr’s family to represent them in a defamation suit against a Communist functionary. Holland structures “Burning Bush,” which clocks in at a challenging four hours, as a legal procedural, domestic portrait and political statement, delving into how Palach’s actions reverberated across Czech society, not just as an ideological statement but also as the deeply personal loss of a bright, idealistic young man. Filmed in and around Prague, “Burning Bush” doesn’t get hung up on fussy period signifiers; rather, it brings viewers into offices, homes and hospitals to provide intimate glimpses of how state power insinuates itself so subtly that its victims barely feel the squeeze.

If you want to see “Burning Bush” — and you should — you need to subscribe to Fandor, a website for streaming cinema that stands as Netflix’s more sophisticated cousin. Check it out, then sign up. Untold riches lie in wait.


Unrated. Contains disturbing images, brief profanity, historical smoking and brief, mild sexuality. 231 minutes. In Czech with subtitles.

Available via Fandor (www.fandor.com).


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