Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Straw Hat (aka Slamený klobouk)

straw hat indexRegular readers will know I’m somewhat obsessed by Oldrich Lipský, a Czech director who seems to be incredibly adept (at the very least) at whatever genre he turns his hand too, and that proves to be the case once again with Straw Hat. It’s not among his best work and that might be due to it being based on a stage play and so it’s one that relies on a limited amount of locations, but it is a film which will have you laughing out loud a decent amount.

A farce that is more farcical than any I’ve ever seen before, with more ridiculous misunderstandings than every episode of Frasier put together, or almost, anyhow, it revolves around the rather caddish Maurice (Milos Kopecký) who is to marry the sexually naïve Helenka (Iva Janzurová). He’s something of a bastard however and cheating on her with Lisette despite it being his wedding day, and when in the woods with Lisette he leaves his horse alone, a mistake he ends up severely regretting as said animal eats the hat of Anais (Kveta Fialová), who is cheating on her husband with the soldier Emil (Pavel Landovský).

Anais is convinced that if she returns home with a half eaten hat her husband will immediately guess that she’s fornicating with another man, which is a bit of a stretch but that’s what kicks off all the madness in the movie, and Emil demands that Maurice pay for a new one. He’s flat broke however and in debt to a large selection of other characters who we meet over the course of the film, and so he goes on a mission to find a replacement, though his wedding and the need to avoid all of those he’s in debt too complicates matters and then some.

To make this all the more ridiculous there’s an elderly deaf uncle (Lubomír Kostelka) who misunderstands everything, cousin Bobin (Jirí Hrzán) is in a murderous mood as he’s secretly in love with Helenka, the banker Dubois is trapped in a cupboard after demanding he be repaid, a sexually desperate Baroness (Helena Ruzicková) mistakes Maurice for a singer she’s hired and tries to seduce him, and a bunch of decorators are shoved from room to room and caught up in all the madness, while Emil is a violent turd who starts destroying Maurice’s apartment when he’s not immediately given money.

Sometimes the farce is stretched to breaking point and certainly during the marriage scene it got to the point where I started to get frustrated by some of the character’s plain irritating choices, and some of it is a little contrived, when Emil is knocked unconscious and red wine spilt upon his body you can see how it’s going to play out a mile off. There’s also a dodgy rape joke from the Baroness who wants Maurice to do exactly that to her, and it’s a superfluous line of dialogue which isn’t needed at all. The majority of the time it’s playful and delightful though, the direction isn’t really that innovative bar the odd sped up sequence and the use of a selection of photographs to illustrate events, but the script is strong with plenty of witty one liners and daft complications, while Lipský regular Milos Kopecký is great in the lead role and makes Maurice likeable despite his many, many sins.

There is a point about fifty minutes where it feels a little exhausting watching this level of farce for such a long period of time, but the final half hour is very strong indeed and the ending has a great pay off. It’s not up there with Lipský’s best work if only because it’s the kind of fare you’ll have seen before and lacks the originality and innovation of films like Lemonade Joe and Happy End, but if you’re fond of farce you’ll no doubt be highly entertained by this highly silly film.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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