5 June 2013 | faterson
Czech Madcap Miniskirt Comedy Classic with All-Star Ensemble of Czech Comedy Legends
If you want to see Czech comedy in all its finest glory, go no further than this gem, _How to Drown Dr. Mráček_. If there ever was a "Dream Team" collected in a single movie, this is it: several of the actors featured here are considered immortal icons of Czech comedy, such as the trio of legends Vladimír Meník, Milo Kopecký and Frantiek Filipovský. All three are outstanding and hilarious here, although Kopecký as the boss of the water spirits outshines them all. Filipovský is more subdued, but quietly brilliant, while Meník is in his métier as the warm-hearted, rambunctious rebel among the water spirits. Some say this movie reflects the bad era in which it originated, in that it *avoids* any explicit mention of it, instead supposedly escaping into fairy-tales; I find that this is a ridiculous claim. Yes, 1974 was politically a bad era in Czechoslovakia, with hard-line Communists having recently returned to power -- but I see no adverse effects of that state of affairs in this movie; in fact, if anything, this comedy cleverly celebrates the spirit of rebellion. Just as the ensemble starring here features many legends, the same applies to the famous duo responsible for the geyser and endless fountain of novel ideas and jokes throughout the movie: the director Václav Vorlíček and his long-time collaborator, the screenwriter Milo Macourek. Yes, the jokes are extremely silly and the plot is absurd -- yet behind the buffoonery, there's often a serious undertone; the message throughout being, "the most important thing is to be human," and, "no one is really special, and everybody should earn their living just like everyone else" (compare the final few shots of the movie). This comedy is also distinctly Czech in that it does not shy away from integrating a few sexual jokes and innuendos into the action, and is quite ribald in certain moments, yet in such a harmless way that the movie *still* manages to remain suitable for children; that's a feat that a US director would not even attempt. There are a few brutal scenes in the movie, such as a leg cut off with a scythe, or a bus full of people falling into a river and drowning everyone... but they are conveyed with such humour that you need to laugh about the supposedly brutal sights, no matter if you're 10 or 55. The movie features a catchy theme song by yet another pair of Czech legends (of pop music: Václav Neckář and Helena Vondráčková). The camera-work is astounding; the streets of old Prague shine with beauty, while also faithfully chronicling the then contemporary period detail of the 1970s; for example, you get to visit a typical butcher's shop from those days in Czechoslovakia. Not only the city and the river are beautiful, but so are many women and girls featured in the movie, even if they are just extras walking by; I'm dead-sure none of them were there just by accident, but the director seemed intent on selecting only the most attractive extras that he could find. This was the era of miniskirts, and _How to Drown Dr. Mráček_ utilizes that fashion to the maximum degree, to the (gentleman) viewers' intense pleasure. In this respect, naturally, the most noticeable aspect of this movie is the ravishingly beautiful Libue afránková, 21 at the time (and playing an 18-year-old), whom you might call the Czech Audrey Hepburn; she was only at the start of her long career in this film, and later developed into a Czech comedy legend in her own right, starring in many Czech comedy classics later on, including the Academy Award-winning _Kolya_ and a few other Oscar-nominated movies. Now, no matter how fine this comedy is -- I'm afraid it can *fully* be appreciated only by those viewers who can understand the movie's original Czech language, such as Czech and Slovak viewers. This is because one needs to be familiar with the way normal Czech language sounds, in order to appreciate the masterful, hilarious delivery of the dialogues by all these grandmasters of comedy. They don't merely *deliver* their lines; they *excel* in delivering them, often inserting hesitation syllables and strangely breaking their voices in order to increase the comical effect; yet without doing so forcefully -- it all comes quite naturally from these masters. Yes, this is *acting* in its finest: it can never, ever be conveyed on paper; the screenplay can capture only the *words* that the characters are saying; never the delivery, the gestures, facial mimicry and intonation. (Not to mention all the puns that really only work in the original Czech language and the closely related Slovak language, but are probably impossible to transfer into a western language such as English, German, or French.) A clear 10 out of 10 -- no other rating can seriously be considered here.