Cult Classics: Happy End

happy end index

Oldrich Lipský is turning out to be one of my favourite directors and I only discovered him late last year. Admittedly I’ve only seen three films of his, Lemonade Joe, Dinner For Adele and this, but all three are so unique that I’ve little doubt I’ll be extremely fond of his other movies, especially as they’re also rated highly on imdb. From what used to be known as Czechoslovakia before the country was separated in to the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, over thirty five years he directed twenty nine films and wrote a few more, it’s hard to track down all of Lipský’s work but I’m going to do my best as Happy End is so so good.

Indeed good is underselling it as it’s a stunning piece, and at the time was pretty damn original. Back in 2002 Gasper Noe won plaudits for the film Irreversible which started at the end and with each scene went backwards through the life of it’s protagonist, but Lipský first used this concept in 1967 but went one better as this truly is a film in reverse as all of the action and dialogue is seen backwards. Starting with the death of it’s lead, Bedrich Frydrych (Vladimír Mensík), a voice over from the character promises a love story like no other and he wasn’t a lying bastard either, though it’s not long before we learn that he has been found guilty of murdering his wife Julie (Jaroslava Obermaierová), cutting up her body, and putting it in a suitcase – but did he do it? And if he did, why?

Much of the fun comes from trying to work out what a character is responding or reacting to (for instance early on after a priest “You’ll meet our lord in the nick of time” and Bedrich utters “That’s disgusting” but it’s then revealed he’s talking about a cigarette he’s been given, and there’s also an enormously amusing scene at the zoo where Julie and her lover Ptáček (Josef Abrhámtake) take food from the mouths of animals. The narration also creates a lot of laughs as he tells the story as if he had just been born, commenting “When I grow up I’ll learn the violin, or start bullying cats”, and believing he was brought up in a seminary without realising it’s a prison.

This device allows Lipský to take a wry look at existence, when he’s not being plain silly at least, and tell a very different kind of tale to the one we witness, as the narrator believes this backward life to be a very normal one, with him presuming it’s completely normal to be given a wife in a suitcase who then later becomes alive. Often the spoken dialogue takes on a double meaning when told backwards too, which is particularly funny in the court scene and when Bedrich saves a man from drowning, and Lipský films certain parts with beautiful eloquence, even if they are violent and filled with destruction, which only serves to make it even funnier.

At just sixty nine minutes it’s a tight, efficient creation, and my only minor complaint is that it’s slightly illogical in that some scenes feature characters talking backwards while others don’t, but it’s not a significant issue and nor does it spoil the movie in any way. All of the cast are damn fantastic, Lipský has quite the talent at involving actors who buy in completely to his unique brand of madness, and the film’s quite simply a very funny delight, and one I know I’ll watch many a time in the future.

Alex Finch.

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