Waiter, Scarper! (Vrchní, prchni!) – Ladislav Smoljak, 1981

In my first review for this site, Accumulator 1, I commented on how Zdeněk Svěrák (Kolya, Empties) was the clear highlight of an otherwise unbalanced film. This time around, I’m delighted to explore a project that actually showcases more of his talents as a screenwriter as well as an actor. Written and directed, respectively, by the duo of Sverák and Ladislav Smoljak, Waiter, Scarper! tells the story of a bookseller named Vrána (Josef Abrhám) who becomes a thief by posing as a waiter to take money from unsuspecting customers…

The film starts with Vrána getting ready for his high school reunion by donning a tuxedo that makes him resemble a waiter. Once he arrives, he realizes that most of his classmates have gone on to have a much better life than him. His marriages have left him in dire straits since he has to pay alimony while also supporting his current family, and even his neighbour, Parizek (Svěrák), who plays the fiddle, has a better car than him. He’s so ashamed of what his life has become that he leaves his noticeably cheaper car in the parking area — only to pick it up later when nobody’s around.

He also has a problem with women – he just can’t seem to control himself whenever he’s around them. Ever since he was a young man he’s had these uncontrollable fantasies about any woman he finds attractive, and his impulses just seem to get the better of him, to the point that he even gets his co-worker pregnant. Once she leaves for maternity, Vrána hires a young lady (Zuzana Fiserová) simply because she doesn’t inspire any vulgar thoughts — which would help him avoid any more problems in the future. And even at the reunion, he is instantly smitten by the enchanting Manuela (Dagmar Patrasová) and has fantasies about her in the bathroom while he’s washing his hands.

Vrána gets the idea of disguising himself as a waiter after various people mistake him for one on his way to the party. He practices in front of the mirror for any future interactions he may have (a little like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver) and lies to his wife (Libuše Safránková) by telling her he has got a job as a violinist. Watching him stumble around while he collects money from unsuspecting customers is endlessly entertaining, and the film really shines whenever he’s backed into a corner that he has to slither out of.

His exploits become so notorious, though, that he actually becomes a wanted man. In order to cover his tracks, his schemes need to become even more elaborate. This involves disguising himself with wigs and facial hair to hide his true identity. At times he even pretends to be his own doppelganger whenever his friendly yet gullible neighbour Parizek recognizes him in the middle of one of his schemes.

The humour of the film mostly comes from Josef Abrhám’s performance as a resourceful yet clumsy con artist stumbling his way through his scams. It’s like a balancing act that he has to perform throughout the film. One scene, in particular, sees him playing the violin (very badly, I might add) in a restaurant while also taking money from some customers he has bribed just so he can convince his wife he’s making money as a violinist. 

His car serves as a running gag in the film. The three-wheeler always needs to be pushed by other people in order to get any momentum at all — sort of like Vrána himself. The humour works really well because the film is pretty grounded for the most part, so when absurd moments do occur they become that much more effective.

It’s refreshing to see such a naturalistic take on comedy. The jokes just casually happen in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the film by relying on excessive editing, close-up shots, or obnoxious music cues. Nowadays, most comedies feel the need to be too obvious, so that no joke goes unnoticed. But it’s the subtlety of the comedy that makes the difference here. The film doesn’t care to hold the audience’s hand so that they understand why something is funny: either you laugh at the jokes or you don’t —  which is how humour works. 

It’s clear that Svěrák and Smoljak understand exactly what they’re going for with Waiter, Scarper! and have plenty of experience with the form. Some aspects of the film have a theatre-like quality to them too, which isn’t surprising seeing as how both Svěrák and Smoljak share a background in theatre. Some of the scenes feature long takes where Vrána has to manoeuvre himself around a restaurant while also avoiding getting caught. The choice to film in it such a way isn’t really necessary, but it’s little details like these that add an extra layer of realism to the film, which blends perfectly with the comedy. All in all, the film features great humour and filmmaking that have aged remarkably well — although I won’t be able to look at waiters in the same way again!

Author: Kai-Ming Chow

Freelance writer and film critic. Mostly writes about film, TV, music, and video games. https://linktr.ee/dlightnin

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