Just back from Europe, I’m bleary-eyed and looking forward with a mixture of daring and dread to the piles of work that await. But before diving in, I’m taking this early morning moment (provided courtesy of time-change disarray) to review some of the film experiences from this trip, which consisted mainly of viewing some Czech movies I had not seen before.
First, a Stop in Munich
Yes, Oktoberfest is raging, but I was there about a week before it started. That could be considered either a bad thing or a good thing. Anyway, I have to give a shout-out to my friend David Kveton (no, not the hockey player), who showed me a couple of his short films (and even gifted me a copy of one). He created them when applying to film school, where he wasn’t accepted, and that’s a shame. The brief thrillers read like Hitchcock adaptations of Poe tales! Can’t wait to check out some of the films and directors David recommended. Stay tuned for reviews of those.
Watch-Worthy Films from the Czech Republic
Many people are familiar with some older award-winning Czech films like Ostře sledované vlaky / Closely Watched Trains (1966) and Vesničko má středisková / My Sweet Little Village (1985) or newer widely-released films like Kolya (1996) or Šílení / Lunacy (2005). There’s a treasure trove of other wonderful films created by the inspired Czech film industry that are worth seeing if you can get a hold of them.
I’ve included only the films I saw on this trip that might appeal to a wider audience. Several others I was treated to were lovely to see for sentimental reasons (for example, an adaptation of some favorite Czech poems that tell Grimm-like fairy tales), but simply do not translate well and may mean little to those who did not grow up in the culture. Naturally, this is true of film for any given country.
Here are a few Czech movies to check out if you have the chance.
Kulový blesk / Ball Lightning (1979) is probably the most culture-dependant film of the three reviewed here, as it revolves around a practice instigated during the communist regime. At the time, living quarters were assigned, usually for life, and one did not simply up and move. People whose living accommodations did not suit them traded housing, secretly and illegally. Eventually, trades that involved multiple dwellers rose to an art form, involving “agents” who coordinated everything from packing to moving trucks. This is the story of one such trade, involving no less than eight parties, which the agent (played by veteran actor Rudolf Hrušínský) says will be record-setting, as such attempts have driven men mad in the past (and you find out why as you watch). As expected, mix-ups and hilarity ensue, capped by a poignant message. Especially lovable is the old woman who keeps changing her mind and almost topples the entire deal. B+
Vratné lahve / Empties (2007), written by and starring Zdeněk Svěrák and directed by his son Jan Svěrák (the father-son team who also created Kolya) is a comically bittersweet and moving look at how the world has changed, leaving those who miss the standards, etiquette, and calm of earlier times to search for ways to rekindle them. It’s the story of Josef Tlakoun, who quits his job as a teacher when it finally gets to him that students no longer have any manners and even get teachers in trouble for trying to discipline them. He’s certainly old enough to retire, but Tlakoun can’t just sit at home, and so he tries new lines of work, until he finds his niche accepting returned empty deposit bottles at a grocery store (while also wrestling with ways to enliven his own marriage and help his divorced daughter to find happiness). A
Vrchní, prchni! / Run, Waiter, Run! (1983) – sometimes erroneously translated as Waiter, Scarper! – is a light comedy starring Josef Abrhám. It tells the story of a hapless romantic who can barely make ends meet, mainly due to his multiple alimony payments, who gets mistaken for a waiter. When he is given a restaurant patron’s payment for a meal, he discovers an undemanding but perilous way to make some extra money. Some hilarious entanglements arise thanks mainly to his neighbor, played by Zdeněk Svěrák. B
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming – real life – as I decompress from three weeks abroad. Thanks for tuning in!