Holiday Makers (Účastníci zájezdu) – Jiří Vejdělek, 2006

A broad cross-section of Czech society go on a coach trip to Slovenia for their holidays, and much mirthlessness ensues. While this ensemble comedy-drama from Jiří Vejdělek is wildly unfunny, it is strangely entertaining, if only because it serves as another terrifying glimpse into the cynical and predatory mind of the Czech Republic’s pervert laureate, Michal Viewegh.

The best selling author also provided the source material for easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, Andělé všedního dne (Angels of Everyday). While the attitudes towards sex and women in Holiday Makers aren’t quite as repellent as in that movie, it is still pretty reprehensible. It’s worth saying at this point that I haven’t read Viewegh’s original material for either so perhaps the subtleties of his work don’t translate well to film. However since I found the sexual politics in both films gross, crass and just plain creepy, I think it’s fair to say that I probably have a vastly different worldview to the writer. But more on that later…

Vejdělek takes his time with the set up, because he has a lot of characters to introduce. As a result, we spend the first half an hour of the film on the bus from Prague to Slovenia meeting everyone. First up is our nominal protagonist Jolana (Anna Polivkova), a sadsack singleton in her mid thirties accompanying her parents (played by Eva Holubová and Bohumil Klepl), who are trapped in a loveless marriage.

Then there’s Max (Ondrej Kovaľ), a pussy hound famous musician who’s presumably taking a break from banging hot women (he leaves one sleeping in the back of a taxi in the opening scenes) to hang out with his gay friends, to “keep the women away”. Nevertheless, Max lasers right in on Helga (Jitka Kocurová), the group’s dim-witted but optimistic tour guide.

Ignac (Míra Nosek) and Oskar (Adrian Jastraban), the laid back and openly gay couple are, after Jolana, the film’s other most likable characters. Unfortunately we find later that they aren’t really characters at all, they’re a plot device for one of the film’s most deplorable story strands. They seem like characters at first, but Vejdělek tips his hand early on – when they go to kiss, Vejdělek cuts away the instant their lips touch. Either he’s uncomfortable watching two men kiss, or is worried his audience will be, which hints at the film’s inherent homophobia which comes fully to the fore later.

We’ll get into that, but it relates to Jakub (Ladislav Ondřej), the young teenage son of Jarda (Martin Sitta) and Jituš (Eva Leinweberová), a ragingly homophobic working class couple (they worry about their kids “catching something” from Ignac and Oskar).

Also along for the ride is awkward loner Vladimir (Martin Pechlát), a scuba diving enthusiast who likes filming jellyfish; two dotty but charming old ladies, one of whom wants to locate where she met her husband many years before; two young bitchy lit students; and the coach tour’s world weary drivers, Karel and Karel, who are perpetually mystified by the passenger’s ability to misplace their precious plastic beverage holders (one of the film’s few funny jokes).

Once they get to Slovenia, stories intersect, unlikely friendships form, and the film veers from outright sex farce to rank sentimentality. Max tries to get his end away with anyone with a vagina. Jolana’s father tries in vain to sleep with Irma, one of the bitchy students – as in Angels of Everyday, we’re encouraged to sympathize with a middle-aged man lusting after a much younger woman because his wife is a shriveled up old crone who won’t put out any more. Jolana likes Max, but she doesn’t have much confidence in herself – she’s supposed to be an ugly duckling because she has slight muffin tops, a bit of cellulite and a rather large nose.

Then there’s the two storylines I want to really talk about in detail – spoiler alert for  Holiday Makers – because I found them so astoundingly wrong-headed that I really need to break them down.

Firstly, there is the scuba diver Vladimir. The girls think he’s a creep and we get an indication of what is to come early on, when he’s reviewing his underwater footage in his room. Some of the collateral of filming jellyfish is some inadvertent clips of women swimming past in their bikinis. It’s strongly hinted that he uses this as wank material, but soon we realize that it might not be as inadvertent as we first thought.

Later he swims up behind Jituš, looking right up her arse through his scuba mask, and she catches him jerking off over her under the water. Her husband drags him from the sea, but – here’s the astounding thing – instead of calling the cops or kicking the shit out of him, the holiday makers and the tour guide rally round and show solidarity with poor old Vladimir, resulting in a bizarre “he jerks off, I jerk off, we all jerk off” moment. It plays like a parody from another dimension of the iconic “I’m Spartacus!” scene. Sure, everyone jerks off, but most of us don’t do it while stalking someone.

Further to this, Jolana, who has the hots for Max but can’t quite keep his attention because she’s not beautiful or slutty enough, is extra sympathetic to the sub-aquatic pervert and inexplicably starts dating him. Then she fucks him, encouraging his fetish by pretending to swim on the bed while he looks up her skirt wearing his scuba mask.

At the end, her story intertwines again with the tribulations of Jakub, the young lad we mentioned earlier.

Now Jakub has trouble pissing when other people are around. Common enough, but an older boy suggests that it might be because he’s a “fag”. Jakub takes this to heart. The older lad helps him investigate – spying on some topless babes with binoculars doesn’t float Jakub’s boat, and he’s unable to prove himself “a man” by jumping off a cliff into the sea. So Jakub turns his attention to the gay couple.

Jakub’s first thought when he suspects that he might be gay is how much it’ll hurt if he takes it up the butt. Don’t worry, the older kid tells him, gays have special ointment for that. This leads Jakub to take an opportune moment to go rummaging through Oskar’s bag and steal a small tub of what he thinks is special gay lube. Unfortunately for him, it turns out to be Tiger Balm. Cue much screaming from the bathroom – poor Jakub has lubed himself up ready to put something up his arse, while also jerking off with Tiger Balm. Sounds like a scene from a Farrelly Brothers movie, but let’s remember – this is a thirteen year old kid.

Poor rectum-and-dick scalded Jakub’s quandary comes to an close at the end of the holiday, when kindly Jolana steps in. She leads him away to a derelict boat and helps fix him by putting his hands up her shirt and letting him grope her breasts. His little pecker gets hard and he runs away, whooping and cheering, and dives straight off the cliff into the sea. Crisis averted, the gay bullet dodged, Jakub is a red-blooded heterosexual after all, and therefore a man. Hurray!

Just in case you’ve missed how gross this storyline is, let’s rewind and switch genders. Jolana is now a single mid-thirties guy, and Jakub becomes a thirteen year old girl. The young girl is mixed up about her sexuality, so the man helps her figure it out by leading her away to a derelict boat and shoving her hands down his pants.

***

In a recent column for Lidove Noviny (People’s News), author and co-screenwriter of Holiday Makers criticised Christine Blayse Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. He felt that, and I paraphrase, that “putting her in an empty room, groping her, and covering her mouth while trying to undress her” was “innocent high school petting”. He went on to say that he was thankful to God that during his puberty he was free to grope any female schoolmates he pleased without endangering his future career, and without any “North American cow” complaining about it.

Looking back at the movie in light of these comments, that “I’m Spank-tacus” moment on the beach suddenly comes into sharper focus. If according to Viewegh it’s OK to “innocently” trap a woman in a room and grope her, where’s the problem with following one underwater and jerking off about her? Who hasn’t satisfied their own needs by masturbating in public over a member of the opposite sex? Why’s everyone so touchy – it’s not like the guy raped her or anything!

There’s more than a whiff of male entitlement throughout the whole film. Max sniffs around trying to get into Irma and Helga’s pants, and constantly feels butthurt when they reject him. He doesn’t really care who he fucks, as long as they’re hot and ready to spread their legs for him. Jolana’s father’s frigid marriage entitles him to cheat on his wife with a much younger woman. Denisa trumps her friend Irma by going topless, purely to attract the attention of a lifeguard – who they spotted earlier on with a massive boner. Rather than be put off by this, this encourages them to compete for his attention.

Conversely, women are universally punished in Viewegh’s world. Jolana is punished for not being super-hot by ending up with the creep who jerks off over women in public. As the victim of the stalker, Jituš, is the only one who seems to think there’s a problem with his behaviour, because everyone else seems satisfied that hey, everyone jerks off, so what’s the issue?

Jolana’s mother is punished for being older and losing her looks by having her husband chase after Irma. Irma is initially punished for being unwilling to reveal her breasts to the lifeguard by having her so-called friend get in there first. Even the very attractive and well-meaning Helga is punished for not falling head over heels for Max when he lurches at her by being excluded by the group and mocked.

All this paints a very clear picture of the mindset of Viewegh. Combined with the material in Angels of Everyday, which centered around an old guy who thought his life sucked because he’d never received a blowjob, Holiday Makers leads me to believe that Viewegh is a warped, mean-spirited, misogynist, homophobic asshole with a really fucked up attitude towards sex.

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