Archive for I Served the King of England

The ’68 Comeback Special: Capricious Summer

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

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The Cannes selection committee were totally on top of the Czech New Wave — other major film movements and filmmakers may have come and gone without being noticed outside their native lands, but this is one that obviously excited keen interest at the time. I guess the excitement of such a movement arising in a communist country, a movement rejecting propaganda and amiably dawdling amid dead air and empty, interstitial scenes, must have been hard to miss. While the other Czech entry, THE FIREMAN’S BALL, can be seen as social critique, and the Czech censors evidently spotted that and clamped down, Jiri Menzel’s CAPRICIOUS SUMMER seems too oblique, too limpid and indifferent, to excite that much ire or smuggle cutting commentaries. And I mean that as a compliment.

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The film’s big achievement, to me anyway, is the way it wafts along, seemingly devoid of plot, tension, point, but still generating some low-level electrostatic interest that keeps you dreamily hooked into the screen. It has a summer quality, even though the weather is mostly lousy. Menzel also appears, as a floppy acrobat-magician, sporting the granny glasses John Lennon popularized in HOW I WON THE WAR, and his performance exactly suits the personality one would attribute to the maker of a film like this — dreamy, indifferent, noodle-like. The film and its characters can contain a few obnoxious moments and traits, but the overall drizzly, good-natured apathy of it all subsumes any whiff of outrage. (It is vaguely possible to get annoyed by Menzel’s more recent I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND, 2006, in which a Nazi eugenics experiment becomes the basis for a prolonged yet curiously flaccid male sexual fantasy.)

I will resist congratulating Menzel on his long, ongoing career, since I did that with Carlo Lizzani and the poor blighter promptly defenestrated himself.

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It’s hard to get to grips with why Menzel’s film seems so seductive. It does speak to something in British culture, actually — The Wind in the Willows, Three Men in a Boat, Last of the Summer Wine — a tradition of middle-aged or elderly layabouts waffling away, wasting time in the country. The quality of colour in Czechoslovakian cinema at that time is also appealing. There’s a sly, teasing eroticism, here embodied by sex kitten Jana Drchalová/Preissová, whose circus dance in a pink onesie was probably the sexiest moment at Cannes that year, or would have been if Cannes had actually happened. Is that faint sound the far-off fapping of Federico Fellini?

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If I can’t pin down exactly what makes the film so appealing, I can isolate exactly what was distracting me all the way through it — Rudolf Hrusínský reminded me strongly of someone. I eventually decided it was a work colleague, but then I couldn’t figure out WHAT it was about the beefy Rudolf that called to mind a much thinner acquaintance. I eventually decided it was the neckline of his jumper. That, and a sort of slouching stance that turns boredom into an aggressive posture. The bullish Rudolf’s character is a collection of bad qualities, but again, as with the rest of the film, I found him oddly attractive. I covet his filthy linen suit and his stripey jumper. Even his stripey, baggy swimming trunks, held on by bizarre braces. It’s a good look for him, and I think I might be able to pull it off.

Menzel’s short tribute to Hrusínský is touching, and a little horrifying. One of the best, and certainly the most elegiac, of the TEN MINUTES OLDER shorts.

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