I arrived back in Prague to be greeted by thunderstorms. The English couple next to me were dismayed. ‘We’ve never been anywhere on holiday where it was raining when we landed,’ the woman told me. Hopefully the gin and tonic she’d treated herself too during the flight took the edge off the disappointment.
Anyway, since I got back there has been a distinct lack of sunshine. Everyone knows that one of the nicest ways to while away a rainy afternoon is to curl up on the sofa in front of a film. Now for those expats amongst you who are curious to find out more about this strange Czechland in which we find ourselves, I have compiled a short list of DVDs which will not only entertain but which will help you discover a little more about Czech culture without really trying too hard. Having watched a couple of old Czech movies will give you more to talk about during those sometimes awkward encounters with the indigenous population.
As I am conscious of the fact that we live in cash-strapped times – every time you open an English-speaking newspaper it’s all blah, blah, doom, credit crunch, blah, blah, doom – all the DVDs I’ve chosen can be purchased for the bargain price of 50 crowns from the newsagents outside Roztyly metro (line C, the red one). Here’s a picture, just in case you get lost:
So here, in no particular order, are my three ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ Czech cinema picks:
1) Head waiter, run! (Vrchní, prchni)
Now I realise that the English translation of the title may lack a certain punch but bear with me here, please. You want humour. You want to see lovely shots of Prague, especially Zizkov (one of the best words in the Czech language in my opinion), before the Revolution. You want to be introduced to that Czech campfire classic, ‘Severni vitr’. You also want to see hot Czech babes performing in their own wet T-shirt competition in the shower. God only knows what kind of traffic that last sentence is going to attract…
This film follows the adventures (or should I say misadventures) of a twice-divorced bookseller who is addicted to womanising and struggling to find the resources to support the army of children he has fathered. A case of mistaken identity leads him to hit upon a cunning plan to boost his income: posing as a waiter in the bars and cafes of Prague, taking the customers’ cash and then making a sharp exit. As you would expect, these leads to all kinds of comic hi-jinx. And of course, it also has Zdenek Sverak (Godfather of Czech cinema who wrote and starred in Oscar winning ‘Kolya’, directed by his son, Jan) putting in a star turn as a rather irritating nosey neighbour. He also gets to wear a great bobble hat.
2) How to drown Dr Mracka or The End of Water Sprites in Bohemia (Jak utopit dr. Mracka aneb Konec vodniku v Cechach)
Ok, so this one doesn’t sound so catchy either in English, but please, just trust me. Again, it’s a comedy, this time of the grown-up fairytale variety. You could even call it a reworking of Romeo and Juliet but with a watery twist: boy meets girl only the star-crossed lovers cannot be together as the girl is really a water sprite and he is the lawyer responsible for kicking the last clan of Bohemian water-sprites out of their damp, unsanitary home for health reasons. Again, it has some great shots of Prague before we spoilt Westerners were all able to come on holiday here and the two romantic leads are fine examples of how good-looking you can end up being with the right Czech genes. And I don’t think I’m spoiling it for you by letting you know there’s a happy ending…
3) The Fireman’s Ball (Hoři, má panenko)
This one doesn’t have much of a plot: some small-town fireman decide to try to organise a beauty contest at their annual dance and then fail to deal with the theft of their raffle prizes and the fire at a nearby house. However, this film deserves an A* for how to do black comedy and you’ll be able to impress Czechs by casually dropping phrases like ‘What a shame that the brief burst of creativity that was Czech New Wave cinema was cut short by the Soviet invasion’ and ‘Ah, Forman, what a genius!’ into hospoda conversation. I’m not sure if this will make you popular or just appear pretentious, but give it a whirl and let me know.