Behold Homolka (Ecce homo Homolka) – Jaroslav Papoušek, 1969

We open in an idyllic forest somewhere in the Czechoslovak paradise, and two teens have found a discreet spot for a little nookie on a summer’s afternoon. Their amorous encounter is soon interrupted though – first by ants having a nibble, then by the noise created by the boorish Homolka family descending on the peaceful scene for a picnic.

There’s plenty of boors in the countryside in Czech movies, which led me to coin the term “bumpkincore” to describe a certain type of Czech comedy. The twist here is that the bumpkins are from the city rather than the village. They’re in the woods to let their screaming kids run around, cool their beer in the stream, and doze in the shade of the trees.

The female half of the canoodling couple thinks quickly – she starts crying for help. Sometimes it feels like Czechs would rather step over your stricken body if you fell down with a heart attack than lend a hand, so it’s a smart move: dozens of daytrippers hear the distress call, pack up their families and picnic gear, and beat a hasty retreat to the city…

This acidic comic note sets the tone for the rest of Ecce homo Holmoka, which retreats to the family’s poky apartment in Prague. While most Czech comedies of the period tend to be bittersweet and observational, there’s a sour edge to this battle of the sexes.

The men of the family, grandfather and his son Ludva (Josef Šebánek and František Husák respectively) feel trapped in their loveless marriages. Grandfather dotes on his grandkids but yearns for some peace from the mouth of his formidable and impressively mustachioed battleaxe of a wife, grandmother Homolková (Marie Motlová). He’s off to the football in the afternoon, and feels that if his son doesn’t assert his masculinity by also going to the footie instead the races with his kids and wife Hedus (Helena Růžičková), he’s pretty much done for.

I’m pretty attuned to Czech comedy these days, but I found Ecce homo Holmoka a wearying 85 minutes of slobs shouting at one another. The sole bright spot is Růžičková’s poignant performance as a larger woman whose former dreams of being a dancer have long since passed. However, audiences clearly liked these characters shouting at one another enough to warrant two sequels – Hogo fogo Homolka followed in 1970, and Holmolka a tobolka (in colour) rounded out the trilogy in 1972.

Interestingly, Růžičková would go on to star in another trilogy about slobs yelling in the ’80s and early ’90s, with a terrific role in the bawdy Slunce, seno… comedies, three films that every Czech I know loves to hate. I’d pick those movies over the Homolka series any day.

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