Let There Be Light Review

Father of three Milan (Milan Ondrík) works abroad in Germany as a construction worker – sending money back home to his wife and family in Slovakia. Just before Christmas, he drives back to his small town in Slovakia to spend the holidays with his family. When Milan arrives home, he realises that in his absence his eldest son Adam (František Beleš) has joined a far-right paramilitary group responsible for the abuse and death of a local boy. Directed by Marko Škop, Let There Be Light is an earnest and harrowing focus on the effects of rising alt-right groups that target the youth of Slovakia. Acting as Slovakia’s official Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, Let There Be Light is a slow-burning, tragic look at fatherhood, fear and the power structures that allow extremist groups to have such control over communities.

Milan Ondrík and Frantisek Beles in Let There Be Light (2019)

Photo © Let There Be Light 

Let There Be Light is a story of parental disconnect and men ardently trying not to be like their fathers. With his father gone for months on end, Adam has sought paternity within his new alt-right group. Such groups often promise young members a bright future and a sense of pride in being able to defend their country; this is certainly the case with Adam. While Milan wants his son to follow in his footsteps of migration and study in Prague, Adam refuses – insisting he wants to stay in Slovakia and ‘defend’ his small town. ‘I’m not going to be like you’ a proud Adam insists to his father. 

Katarina Kormanakova, Maximilian Dusanic, Milan Ondrík, and Frantisek Beles in Let There Be Light (2019)

Photo © Let There Be Light 

Milan is also a man trying to run from the shadows of his father. A chirpy family-man, Milan vows to be nothing like his stern, unloving and disapproving father who is loathed by his grandchildren and son alike. Milan’s father angers him so much that one singular visit to him can lead Milan to be sexually incompetent – ‘you know how he winds me up’ he says to his wife as an excuse. Beneath Milan’s cheery surface there is a brewing anger. A frustration that he is losing control over his family and his local community. A frustration that comes out in splurges of sporadic violence and rage towards his family. When he discovers Adam is a member of the group responsible for the local boy’s death, he lashes out – beating his son until he’s black and blue. Unfortunately, this is all before Adam can explain his reluctance to participate in such abuse and how he was forced to watch by the rest of the group. Feeling ashamed by his own reckless violence and lack of thought, Milan is left to deal with the guilt caused by his own behaviour. As Milan’s own wife puts it, ‘you are just like your father’. Škop here remarks on how harsh, suppressive parenting is often counteractive in these situations – only further isolating the child and leaving them more open to being radicalised.  

Photo © Let There Be Light 

As the story progresses, Milan’s attempts to fix things only make matters work. Instead of going to the police, he resorts to personally threatening the commander of the group with a pistol. A choice that leads to the group targeting attacks towards Milan’s family home and his wife’s small cheese business. With this reputation, other members of the community soon refuse to even speak to Milan – out of fear they too will be associated with him. 

Let There Be Light is an ambitious piece that delves into the complexity of why paramilitary groups have such a stronghold over small communities. It begins to uncover such issues as police apathy, church excusal (at one point a priest suggests the boy deserved to be murdered as he was a ‘sinner’) and a community riddled with fear that leads to submission and silence. However, the film at times bites off more than it can chew and leaves such ventures feeling unfocused and underdeveloped. However still, Let There Be Light is an important representation of parenthood, masculinity and the alarming effects of rising neo-fascism in Slovakia. 

Rating: Image result for three and a half stars

Written by Abi Aherne

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