Bikers (Bajkeři) – Martin Kopp, 2017

I have a confession to make. Lately, I have become addicted to lame Czech raunchy comedies. There are dozens on Netflix right now and I have the strange urge to crack through every single one of them, even though I know they will be mostly terrible. I don’t know why this craving has emerged, but I’m currently taking heavy doses of Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer to help overcome this nasty affliction…

Next up is Bikers from Martin Kopp (3Grapes), a film that owes a vague debt to movies like American Pie and Euro Trip. As far as modern Czech comedies go, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as Spindl, a film so dispiriting that it might make you take a vow of celibacy and go live on top of a mountain somewhere, well away from other members of the human race.

We first meet Patrik (Tomás Matonoha), an energetic divorcee exasperated by his teenage son David (Jan Komínek) who would rather sit around in a darkened room playing fantasy RPGs instead of wanking himself silly to all the free porn online. In an attempt to cure the boy, he coerces his attractive younger girlfriend Tereza (Hana Vagnerová) to take David on a 200km bike ride to get some air in his lungs and maybe talk to real girls in real-world scenarios. Tereza, a mountain bike enthusiast who dreams of pulling off gnarly stunts like the kids at the local cycle track, reluctantly agrees.

Also along for the ride is David’s hated stepbrother Jachym (Adam Mišík), another pale-faced shut-in who lives with David’s relentless psychiatrist mother and her timid new husband, who is terrified of her. Not exactly relishing the prospect of hanging out with his step-sibling, Jachym asks his best friend Saša along (Vojtěch Machuta), who supports his family by posing as a gay fashion guru on Youtube.

Once agreed on the trip, they head off to South Bohemia for a long cycle ride across the typically gorgeous Czech landscape. Not that the boys notice, however – they are too busy trying to get a wifi signal, and neither the glorious Bohemian nature nor the sight of Tereza’s backside in tight cycling shorts is enough to rouse attention from their mobile phones…

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Shotgun Justice, aka The Lady Terrorist (Teroristka) – Radek Bajgar, 2019

A movie about a 70-year-old woman who goes all Charles Bronson on a bunch of thugs? Half the fun of writing it must have been thinking up a title. Granny Get Your Gun immediately springs to mind, or, given the spaghetti western motifs in Jiří Hájek’s score, how about A Fistful of Werther’s? No, wait! A Mouthful of Dentures? Or, considering what must have been the film’s main influence, we could just go with Gran Torino

Whatever, Radek Bajgar seems to have missed a trick on the title, ending up with the far more generic Teroristka, or The Lady Terrorist, or Shotgun Justice, as it is also known in English. Then again, there is more to this comedy than an old woman waving firearms around. As with his earlier thoughtful dramedy Tiger Theory, the director creates another terrific character for a senior actor. This time the beneficiary is Iva Janžurová, screen veteran of the demented Morgiana (where she played a dual role) and comedy classic Maracek, Pass Me the Pen!

Here she plays Marie, a kindly former teacher who lives in a cosy riverside settlement that is popular with retirees and weekenders from the city. She helps look after her ailing friend Eva (Eva Holubová), whose dying wish is to spend her remaining time on earth in her beloved holiday cottage by the water. However, her peace is shattered by the rowdy local bar pumping out music until the early hours of the morning.

Marie appeals to the mayor, Helena (Tatiana Vilhelmová), to uphold the bylaws and enforce quiet time overnight so Eva can get some rest. Unfortunately, Helena is having an affair with Mr Mach (Martin Hoffman), a slimebag businessman from the big city who, thanks to his power over the mayor, lords it over the settlement and its residents like a mobster.

Mach is a thoroughly despicable character. He treats the locals with utter contempt and has the megalomaniac scheme of creating a new sport called “Moto-biathlon” with the gang of roughneck hunters and bikers who hang out at the bar, thereby creating his own militia of armed hicks on motorcycles. Things escalate when Lenka (Kristína Svarinská), a single mother living next to Eva, sabotages a meeting of the two-wheeled thugs with a spray can of very strong glue.

As the situation worsens (spoiler alert: the dog doesn’t make it in this one), Mach blackmails Lenka and plans to buy out the land from under the community. In response, an increasingly desperate Marie takes things into her own hands. She visits her shady former student Trpělka (Pavel Liška) to buy a gun…

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Men in Hope (Muži v naději) – Jiří Vejdělek, 2011

As Ronan Keating, that perennial purveyor of pop pap, once sang: “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it” – that’s the happy-go-lucky ethos of Men in Hope‘s Rudolf (Bolek Polívka), an ageing lothario and Prague cabbie with 138 extra-marital affairs under his belt. He even had a very movie-land former career as an international rollercoaster designer, providing him ample opportunity to cheat on his wife, and gives us a handy metaphor for his attitude towards relationships. As a man who spent his life building fairground thrill rides, he knows all about the twists, turns, ups, downs and loop-the-loops that only an adulterous lifestyle can offer.

Rudolf reasons that a well-timed affair can save a relationship. He prides himself on never getting caught in over 35 years of marriage to his wife, Marta (Simona Stašová), and she benefits too. Having a series of flings with much younger women gives him a little extra energy when it’s time to perform his husbandly duties at home.

This philosophy is met with mild disapproval by Ondřej (Jiří Macháček), Rudolf’s downcast, browbeaten son-in-law, a former accountant who runs a failing restaurant with his frosty wife Alice (Petra Hřebíčková). Their marriage is stuck in a loveless rut, but Alice wants another baby and times their intimate moments accordingly. This puts pressure on Ondřej to come up with the goods as he worries about his fertility.

Things change when Ondřej meets Rudolf’s latest date, Šarlota (Vica Kerekes), a curvy red-headed bombshell who has been doing community service as penitence for dancing naked in a fountain. She has a special way of putting a smile on a guy’s face, and despite his misgivings, Ondřej can’t help but brighten up in her presence.

Before we know it, Šarlota tracks Ondřej down to his customer-free restaurant and starts an affair with him. Cheating on his wife peps Ondra up – he suddenly starts taking pride in his business, showing a little flair in the kitchen, as well as finding a bit more va-va-voom in the bedroom. Rudolf’s philosophy seems to be paying dividends when a sudden tragic event changes his point of view…

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Spindl (Špindl) – Milan Cieslar, 2017

I’ve reviewed quite a few older classics recently, so this week I decided to play Random Czech Movie Roulette with some of the newer content on Netflix. I landed on Milan Cieslar’s “romantic comedy” Špindl

Oh dear.

Well, I said from the beginning that my blog would cover all Czech movies, including the bad ones, so here goes…

Anna Polívková stars as Katka, a sad sack singleton in her mid-thirties (something of a recurring role for her) who hates her job and dreams of one day finding Mr Right. I feel a bit sorry for Polívková. Firstly, she is following in the footsteps of her father, Bolek Polívka, one of the greatest living Czech actors. Secondly, she keeps finding herself in lame sex comedies like Špindl and Holiday Makers, or playing second banana to her illustrious dad in terrible sequels like The Inheritance 2. I’m still getting over the scene in Holiday Makers where she lets a 13-year-old boy grope her breasts to help “cure” him of his suspected homosexuality.

Anyway, Katka is down in the dumps and sharing her woes with her two sisters – worldly, tattooed artist Magda (Anita Krausová) and happy-go-lucky model Eliška (Kateřina Klausová). Eliška has a surprise to cheer her up. She has paid for three all-inclusive tickets to the mountain resort of Špindlerův Mlýn for a week of skiing, boozing and picking up guys. Who knows? Maybe one of them could be the Mr Right Katka is hoping for…

Also on his way to the mountains is Tonda (David Gránský), a young musician joining the resort’s resident band headed by Mrkvička, a slovenly middle-aged rocker played by Jakub Kohák, the Czech Republic’s hairiest living celebrity. Tonda hopes that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle will improve his chances with the ladies, and his new bandmates are all too happy to help out.

On arrival in the resort, the girls meet Lukáš (Roman Blumaier), supposedly the hotel owner whose welcoming spiel announces “Americans have Las Vegas; Czechs have Špindl” – promising a week of fun and frolics that they won’t need to take home with them unless they really want to. Straight away, things take a turn for the worst. The swanky ski lodge Eliška reserved has double-booked, so they have to stay at the shabby Three Mountains hotel nearby instead.


It’s a creaky old place with peeling wallpaper, paper-thin walls and nudie photos on the shared bathroom wall. Despite the setback, they decide to make a go of it and find that they must share the lodgings with the cheerfully inappropriate older couple in the next room and Tonda’s raucous band.


The next hour creeps by with a mixture of pitiful slapstick (Katka has about 700 skiing accidents), awkward gross-out humour (Eliška walks in on an old man masturbating to some vintage porn) and cringe-inducing sexual liaisons (Katka’s ill-advised date with slimy Lukáš had me watching through my fingers like it was a horror movie).

It’s all so painfully weak. It makes the unholy trinity of Michal Viewegh adaptations – Holiday Makers, From Subway with Love, and Angels of Everyday – seem like comedy classics in comparison. At least those movies had a little energy and were strangely entertaining despite their crass sexual politics. Špindl starts weak, with Polívková’s half-hearted Bridget Jones-style voice-over and Chinaski’s weak pop-rock tunes on the soundtrack, and gets progressively weaker as it goes along.

To make matters worse, it is also one of those films that thinks it’s clever by making copious references to much better movies. It has the unfortunate effect of making you wish you were watching those movies instead. Marek Vašut pops up for a scene to quote his sleazy role in From Subway with Love. The cutesy earworm “Sladké mámení” from the snowbound family classic I Enjoy the World with You gets two renditions in the space of five minutes. Later, we get a bizarre Jurassic Park reference when Tonda is chased through a hotel kitchen by a sexually frustrated older woman.

More depressing still is the film’s attitude towards sexual relationships. Like those Viewegh movies, neither sex comes off well. Špindl depicts blokes as scoundrels and cheats who are only after one thing, modern cavemen who can’t make it through five minutes without crudely hitting on a member of the opposite sex. The women are always desperate singles whose brains can’t function properly without a man’s attention, and are willing to sink to their level in the dwindling hope of finding “Mr Right”. When Mr Right finally shows up for Katka, the romantic element comes as an afterthought, in the mid-credit scenes, just before a short skit where a man sprinkles his crab-infested pubes on another guy’s head (spoiler alert). It’s all so tawdry and cynical. 

The film’s saving grace is the three performances by Polívková, Krausová and Klausová, who gamely struggle with the unfunny material and somehow emerge with a little dignity intact. Polívková seems like she could be good with a decent script, but so far, I’ve only seen her in terrible movies. I can’t figure out whether she is a genuinely sympathetic screen presence or a screen presence in need of genuine sympathy.

I usually avoid saying people shouldn’t watch a movie because everyone should make up their own minds. Yet Špindl is a romantic comedy so totally lacking both romance and laughs, leaving you with a big empty nihilistic void of a movie. So I’ll conclude by saying this: watch it if you want, but it might put you off sex, skiing and human interactions for a few months at least.

***

Špindl is showing on Czech Netflix at the time of writing. This article was first published by the Prague Daily Monitor.

Honeymoon (Líbánky) – Jan Hřebejk, 2013

Can someone’s dark secrets ever stay truly buried? That’s the question at the heart of Honeymoon, a dark psychological thriller where director Jan Hřebejk seems to takes a few cues from Lars von Trier in studied, beautifully-acted, elegantly-shot misanthropy.

Much like Trier’s Melancholia from a few years earlier, Honeymoon centres around a wedding party and a bride with her own past psychological issues. Then, much like the former film’s titular planet that ruins festivities by colliding with Earth, a wedding crasher who knows too many inconvenient secrets threatens to destroy the marriage before the ink is dry on the certificate.

We meet Tereza (Anna Geislerová) and Radim (Stanislav Majer), an attractive couple on their big day, taking their vows in a picturesque church before heading out to a sprawling country house for the reception. Before entering the church, Dominik (Matěj Zikán), Radim’s son from a previous marriage, has a mishap with his glasses. Radim takes the boy to the optician across the road to get them fixed. The man behind the counter (Jiří Černý) seems to recognise the groom, but Radim doesn’t appear to notice…

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

According to a survey conducted in the late 2000s, married Czechs are almost twice as likely to have an affair than their counterparts in the USA. A large number of those interviewed also believe that extramarital dalliances are just the natural way of things.

The Czech Republic is a comparatively atheistic nation, which may be a contributory factor – many Czechs don’t have the moralistic religious angle to keep them on the straight and narrow. This permissive attitude is reflected in Czech movies, where philandering husbands and cheating wives are often portrayed unapologetically, without the finger-wagging subtexts that often haunt affairs in the mainstream cinema of English-speaking countries.

One such adulterous protagonist can be found in Ladislav Smoljak’s Waiter, Scarper! Josef Abrhám plays Dalibor Vrána, a hapless bookshop manager who is pushing forty, on his third marriage, and totally skint thanks to alimony payments. Vrána’s problem is that he is simply incapable of keeping it in his pants when confronted with a member of the opposite sex. He is so incorrigible that when it comes to choosing a new female assistant to replace the one he got pregnant, he picks the homeliest girl available to reduce the risk of pouncing on her…

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National Street (Národní třída) – Štěpán Altrichter, 2019

Never drink in a pub with a flat roof, or so the joke goes back in the UK. It refers to the type of dismal drinking establishments that sprang up on post-war housing estates, where you might encounter all sorts of dodgy characters, addicts and psychos. The same goes in the Czech Republic, too – you might run into a nutter like Vandam (Hynek Čermák) in Štěpán Altrichter’s National Street.

Vandam is the resident hard man of the drab Severka pub in a southern Prague project. They call him Vandam because he can do 200 push-ups, just like his VHS hero, Jean-Claude Van Damme. With his skinhead, stocky build and menacing brow, it’s no surprise to find out he has racist and homophobic views and doesn’t mind sharing them. He wants everyone to know he’s a proper fighter. “Peace is just the intermission between wars,” he growls on his voice over, with the attitude of a man who views life as a long series of battles.  He is also known to the other denizens of the pub as a national hero, the man who sparked the Velvet Revolution by throwing the first punch…

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Once Upon a Time in Paradise (Tenkrát v ráji) – Lordan Zafranović, Peter Pálka & Dan Krzywoň

World War II has provided inspiration for movies for over 80 years now, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of incredible tales. Sometimes I wonder, though, when I see a film as weak as Once Upon a Time in Paradise, whether the well is drying up and people are starting to run out of ideas.

That may seem unfair on the source material, Josef Urban’s novel and the true story that inspired it. It sounds like rousing stuff on paper – a talented rock climber hides from the Nazis in the wilderness, evading capture for years – and maybe that is where it should have stayed. It was a similar situation with the Laurent Binet’s page-turner HHhH – an intensely gripping read that spawned two insipid film versions. Maybe not every book needs a movie adaptation.

After a Saving Private Ryan-style bookend we meet Josef Smítka (Vavřinec Hradilek, an Olympic medal-winning canoeist in his first film role) hiking in the Tatras with his best friend Heinrich (Petr Smíd). They are on their way to tackle the Gerlach Peak, the highest mountain in the range. Along the way, they spot a beautiful young woman swimming naked in an alpine lake.

Buy your copy of Once Upon a Time in Paradise from Amazon HERE

The woman turns out to be Vlasta Brázdová (Vica Kerekes), a well-known writer and accomplished climber who is married to a much older man, the possessive painter Ota (Miroslav Etzler). Josef – or Joska to his friends – is instantly smitten. When the two friends run into trouble on the mountainside, it is Vlasta who abseils to rescue them…

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Wings of Christmas (Křídla Vánoc) – Karin Babinská, 2013

Tomás (Richard Krajčo) is possibly the movie-est movie optician in cinema history. He is a brooding tattooed hunk with rockstar looks who lives in a snowbound caravan just outside the Globus superstore where he works. With only his beloved horse to keep him company on those lonely nights spent listening to vinyl while looking smoulderingly handsome, he also juggles several affairs with local married women to fend off the solitude. He is always getting drunk and late for work, but that doesn’t matter – his boss is in love with him too.

The only woman he shares a platonic relationship with is Nina (Vica Kerekes), a forlorn girl who works on the gift-wrapping counter, which must suck because she hates Christmas. She lives alone in an apartment full of unpacked boxes and he is estranged from his family, so they end up spending the holidays together. Unsurprisingly, romantic feelings develop between them as they fry fish together and break into their place of work to steal basketfuls of groceries and booze…

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Three Brothers (Tři bratři) – Jan Svěrák, 2014

While many Christmas movies in English-speaking countries tend to focus around the festive season and sometimes feature a jolly chap with a white beard and red winter gear, Czech festive viewing often centres on fairy tales. There is a long tradition of TV and film adaptations, from The Proud Princess (Pyšná Princezna) to the classic Three Wishes for Cinderella (Tři oříšky pro Popelku).

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More recently, the popular father-and-son team of Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák got in on the action with Three Brothers, a cheerful fairy tale musical for kids that weaves together three very familiar tales…

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