Low-cost flights through Czech cinema, Part I

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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:

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So here, in no particular order, are my three ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ Czech cinema picks:

1) Head waiter, run! (Vrchní, prchni) 

vrchni

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)

dr mracka

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)   kinoeye5_horimapan

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.

9 Comments

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9 Responses to Low-cost flights through Czech cinema, Part I

  1. Isa

    Okay, thanks because I have not seen ANY of these XD

    More modern Czech cinema is awesome too. Here are my top:

    +Pelísky (Eng: Cozy Dens): Absolutely most hysterical movie ever, follows two Czech families living in the same apartment building and how the Soviet invasion effects them. I never thought a suicide attempt could make me laugh myself silly, but there you have it.

    +Želary: Heartbreaking movie about Czech village life during the Nazi occupation. Really good but long and sometimes slow :/

    +Tajinosti (Eng: Little Girl Blue [even though the Czech title means “Secrets”]): Don’t know how to explain this one … Czech woman in loveless marriage, has some secrets, makes some decisions. Worthwhile for the way the director uses music and dance to create beautiful, thought provoking imagery. The Tango scene will stay with me for a while.

    Of course I have sort of a soft spot for Vojtech Kotek and Jirí Mádl movies even though they’re stupid and I hear Roming is very good as well but I haven’t seen it yet :/

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Isa,

      Thanks for your film recommendations: I haven’t heard of any of the ones you’ve mentioned so I’ll definitely be checking them out. Like I said in the post, I think watching Czech films is a nice way to learn a little about the culture and be exposed to the language without trying too hard.

      I deliberately chose some older films as I wanted to highlight things that non-Czechs might otherwise have missed but this is just Part I… Oh, and now I’m back in Prague and in a good mood, more non-cinema related posts will follow soon!

      GIC

  2. Just a couple of points.

    Firstly, though you are technically correct that Kolya was nominated for an Oscar, its probably more important to mention that it WON an Oscar. Believe it or not winning is actually better than just being nominated. PS Vrchni, Prchni! is one of my favorite films.

    as for Hori ma panenko, it sad that you see it as simple black humor that “doesn’t have much of a plot”. The plot is very deep, and covers aspects of life in Czechoslovakia at the time. True its not a plot per se, but the combination of people not willing to accept a totalitarian society whilst living it is a complex plot. You probably need to actually attend a fireman’s ball in a small village to really understand the undertows of this film.

    • girlinczechland

      Oops. I blame Czechman for the Kolya confusion but in future I’ll double check my facts.

      Glad to hear you like Vrchni, prchni: like I said, I think it’s a bit of a classic and a nice introduction to the work of Sverak.

      GIC

  3. Marek

    Haha, good choice of cinema Girl!

    I kinda like Kdo chce zabít Jessie (Who wants to kill Jessie). Might not be everybody`s taste but: 1966, some of old Prague and seing how Czechs played with the US pop culture (new wave aside – Superman had to remain a baddie 🙂
    http://www.csfd.cz/film/9415-kdo-chce-zabit-jessii/

  4. Mike

    The Water Sprite film is one of my wife’s favorites. Pelisky is my favorite Czech film and one of my all time favorites.

    The Byl Jednou Jeden Polda series is ok…the Kamenak series is much better.

    The first Czech film I watched was Dedictvi Aneb Kurvahosigutentag…love the main character, Bohus…the actor that plays him is also in Pelisky. This film was where I first heard of Slivo…that wicked drink so loved by so many Czechs…I liked it too…the first time.

    There’s another film, I think the English title is From Subway with Love…I have no idea of the Czech title…it was made in about 2000 or so. The lead male character, Oliver, also plays a doctor in the Kamenak series. It’s a fun romance that my wife and I enjoy if for no other reason than our age difference is about the same as that of the couple in the film.

  5. Stephen

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it, you tell your story in a way that makes me want to read more (I’m late for work!).

    Vrchní, prchni is fabulous. Have you tried Dáma na kolejích? It’s a 1960s musical about a female tram driver who goes off the rails in a big way after a romantic confusion. And I like Účastníci zájezdu as well: it’s great on the topics of Czechs, coach travel and thrift.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Stephen,

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I haven’t heard of the two films you mention but they sound intriguing so I’ll definitely check them out: I’m thinking about doing a follow-up post to this one in any case…

      GIC

  6. The WaterSprite film sounds fantastic – typically playful as Czech comedy tends to be (even when dealing with brooding, murky subject matter).

    I miss raiding the bargain DVD sellers in Prague for random gems thick with layers of dust. If you enjoyed The Firman’s Ball, then surely Forman’s Loves of a Blonde would be the closest his other Czech movies got its genius.

    In the spirit of the other great sounding films recommended in the comments I’d like to offer my recommendations for fine Czech comedies:

    Of the recent lot: Women in Temptation (ŽENY V POKUŠENÍ) is an excellent alternative to the sappy, effortlessly dislikable romantic comedies that Hollywood generally produces these days. But my absolute favorite Czech comedy of all time is Bored in Brno (NUDA V BRNĚ – http://foec.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/13-treasures-%C2%B7%C2%B7%C2%B7-1-%C2%B7%C2%B7%C2%B7-nuda-v-brne-bored-in-brno/) it’s stunning in every way and is the sort of film that leaves gags and jokes in your mind to catch you out even after you’ve finished watching.

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