It’s the very early days of my journey through Czech cinema, and I still find myself reaching for a “western” film as a comparison when thinking about a Czech film I’ve just watched. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something directly analogous, but something that – however tangentially – captures its atmosphere or themes.
With The Inheritance, or Fuckoffguysgoodday, I found myself cast back to 1995, when Sandra Bullock logged onto The Net. It was a pretty routine conspiracy thriller that bumbled along amiably enough on Bullock’s burgeoning star power, warning everyone about the potential pitfalls of the internet – before anyone really knew what the internet was.
Věra Chytilová’s most famous film internationally, Daisies (Sedmikrásky), was banned by the Czechoslovak government. Two and a half decades later, she stuck the boot into the tawdry temptations of capitalism with her aggressively charmless comedy, The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday – before anyone in her country really knew what capitalism was, or had figured out what it meant for them.
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Bolek Polívka (who also co-wrote with Chytilová) stars as Bohus, a slovenly layabout and village piss artist whose favourite things in life are his elderly aunt, slouching around in his undies, chugging slivovice, and having crafty knee-trembler with the barmaid, Vlasta (Dagmar Havlová), at his favourite boozer.
He’s skint and constantly drunk, but seems fairly content with his lot. As with many of the Czech rural comedies that I’ve come to regard as “bumpkincore”, the characters might not have a lot going for them but are sent into a fit of rapture by their beloved nature. Quite rightly so – only this weekend on a train journey back from Nedvědice to Tišnov, with its idyllic hills, forests and streams, I dreamily thought once again that the Czech Republic might be heaven on earth.
Things change, however, when Dr Ulrich (Miroslav Donutil), a smart lawyer from the city, rolls up to tell Bohus that his father has passed away and bequeathed him his considerable fortune…
Bohus takes the good news as boorishly as he does everything else, getting even more staggeringly drunk than usual and touring around his newly acquired businesses – a brick factory, a corner shop, and a famous old Brno hotel – picking fights with his new employees and threatening to sack them. It’ll take a while for the money to clear, so Dr. Ulrich agrees to fund his extravagant whims in the meantime.
The bright lights and city attitudes of Brno don’t really match Bohus’ lifestyle. After his favourite goat dies back home, he takes all his mates from old pub for an impromptu wake at a swanky restaurant in the city, which descends into a brawl. Prior to the punch up, Bohus woos a stunning brunette with a bottle of whiskey – one of his friends observe that she must either be an actress or a prostitute.
Later, Bohus drops into a brothel and sure enough, she’s one of the girls working that night. After enjoying her services, he decides that he wants her all for himself, and invites her to live with him and his aunt back in the village.
The girl, Irena (Šárka Vojtková) shows up, wearing some incongruously tight-fitting clothing. It’s clear she’s only in it for the money, and her arrival doesn’t go down well with Vlasta.
Bohus is a repellent character – crude, pushy, overbearing, selfish, short-tempered and constantly wasted – but he’s not all bad. He refuses to sell the brick factory to a Japanese investor because he doesn’t want the employees to lose their jobs, and he buys the kids in the village a fairground ride simply because he wants them to have it.
The film is plainly made during a time when the country was getting to grips with its newfound democracy – when Dr Ulrich shows up, Bohus’ friends fret that he might be from the secret police, ready to spirit Bohus away – and takes several swipes at the commodification inherent in capitalism. Some hit the target well, as when Bohus’ cohort in the brothel-creeping episode exclaims that Bohus’ newfound fortune gives him the freedom to buy Irena whenever he wants. Other broad swipes are more on the nose, not least the film’s concluding line, delivered right down the barrel of the camera by Polivka.
Whatever the intentions, The Inheritance doesn’t work as a satire – it’s far too mired in crass bumpkincore comedy for that. Indeed, Polivka and Chytilova seem too engrossed in wallowing in their characters’ ignorance and crude behaviour to exercise any reasonable restraint. As a result, the film is a good half an hour too long, and allows Polivka to over-indulge in his village idiot impression.
I saw The Inheritance immediately after Divided We Fall, and after Polivka’s really restrained performance in that movie, it was an enjoyable surprise to see his gift for physical comedy here. That’s not to say it’s a slapstick performance – I’m just talking about how Polivka animates Bohus with every inch of his lanky frame.
Even when Bohus isn’t really doing anything – laying in a hammock trying to read his paper, for example – he still seems in constant restless motion, and simple comedy is derived from pairing the gangly actor with the diminutive Anna Pantůčková as his wizened old auntie. So while I think it’s an over-indulgent part, Polivka himself is a joy to watch as always.
Despite this, I don’t know if I could fully recommend The Inheritance. Whereas Chytilova’s Daisies was light, funny and inventive, The Inheritance is bloated, forced and unimaginative, playing out interminable scenes of village folk being assholes well beyond their logical endpoint. Only the final scenes approach Chytilova’s inventiveness in her most famous film – but even that fleeting moment of surreal inspiration is quickly pissed away by the final moment of Polivka hammering the point home with his fourth-wall-breaking final line.
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