You can watch Cosy Dens (Pelíšky) right HERE with our View on Demand partners Eyelet.
Last year when I was trying to figure out which movies made Czechs laugh the most, I asked 100 people to name their favourite Czech comedy. I was expecting the perennial favourite Pelíšky (Cosy Dens) to come up a few times, but it absolutely romped home with 25% of the vote.
I guess it’s not hard to see why. Early in my days of watching and reviewing Czech films it was my first truly five star pick, an hugely satisfying tragicomedy set in the months prior to the Prague Spring in 1968. Offering laughs and robust family drama, it also features a gallery of wonderful performances from a formidable cast of Czech and Slovak stars.
The picture opens in the winter of ’67, and lovelorn teenager Michal Šebek (Michael Beran) wants to end it all. He is hopelessly in love with his upstairs neighbour Jindřiška (Kristýna Nováková). The trouble is, she is going out with his much cooler mate Elien (Ondřej Brousek), who gets all the latest movies, music and fashion from his parents living in the States.
To make matters worse, her father, Mr Kraus (Jiří Kodet) is a rabid anti-communist war hero who often has flaming rows with Michal’s dad. Mr Šebek (Miroslav Donutil, The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday) is a staunch supporter of the Communist government, an army officer so petty and regimented that he types out a weekly menu for his family…
Added to this sitcom-style setup is Michal’s sad, single aunt who is looking for a new father for her boy, and his vaguely shady uncle Václav (Bolek Polívka, Divided we Fall) who visits for Christmas.
The first hour of the film focuses on each family’s fraught Christmas celebrations and establishes the tense dynamic between the generations. Mr Kraus and Mr Šebek are strict fathers who have trouble showing affection to their children, while Michal and Jindřiška regard their dads as tyrants.
The death of a character halfway through leads to the two families becoming one, and the ideologically opposed fathers must find a way to tolerate one another for the sake of their kin.
This might sound a bit heavy, but director Jan Hřebejk handles the material with authority and lightness of touch, ably assisted by his magnificent cast. One of the main strengths of Pelíšky is how his actors portray initially dislikable characters with such comic gusto and pathos, staying just the right side of caricature.
While the whole cast is excellent, Pelíšky is all about the two belligerent father figures. It helps that Kodet and Donutil are so distinctive physically – I could imagine these men illustrated by Josef Lada.
Kodet as Mr Kraus is thin, stiff and ageing, a proud patriot who could shout for Czechoslovakia; in one of the film’s outstanding comic moments, his daughter needles him into a lengthy rant about the difference between Czech knedlíky and Italian gnocchi. In the second half, he becomes a far more noble, weary and ultimately tragic character.
Donutil as Mr Šebek is a good match for Kodet physically, a classic fat guy/skinny guy comic partnership. The imposing but overweight Šebek is a pathetic character, a bumptious little man clinging to his political beliefs to compensate for his growing impotence in his family life.
If I’m nitpicking, you could say that the plot of Pelíšky is a little too convenient. It seems like a character dies purely to bring the two families together, and I found it difficult to believe that Kraus and Šebek would be caught completely unawares by the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops at the film’s conclusion. Wouldn’t two men as politically aware as the two fathers be glued to the radio as events unfolded in Prague?
Tiny gripes aside, Pelíšky is rich with memorable characters and loaded with delightful period detail. The film looks gorgeous, awash with the styles and sounds of ’60s Czechoslovakia, from Karel Gott’s latest hit to Blue Effect’s Slunečný hrob, which recurs as the film’s theme tune. While it is undeniably one of the nation’s favourite comedies, it also doubles as a popular Christmas favourite – newcomers to Czech culture will have fun figuring out rituals like why there is a live fish kept in the bathtub!
Pelíšky is a superb film. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I genuinely knew these characters. Despite their foibles, I’d also grown to love them, making the conclusion so irresistibly poignant.
Enjoy the review and can’t wait to see the movie? Then you’re in luck! You can watch Cosy Dens (Pelíšky) right HERE with our View on Demand partners Eyelet.
6 thoughts on “Cosy Dens (Pelíšky) – Jan Hřebejk, 1999”
I really liked your review. I just want to say that your point at the end about the two fathers. No one had expected that something like the infamous Soviet invasion could happen. It started in the middle of the night and most people learned about it from the radio at night. Just like the men in the movie.
Hey Šimon thanks for reading! This is definitely a learning process for me, so I appreciate you setting me straight.