Cutting It Short

With its uneasy, almost absurdist edge, this depiction of life in an early-20th-century Czech provincial town is never quite the light comedy it sometimes tries to be. Directed in 1980 by Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains), banned from directing for years after the 1968 invasion, it centers on a mild-mannered brewery manager named Francin; his beautiful, somewhat wild wife, Maryska; and his brother Peppin. No one quite connects: the husband accepts his wife's nuttiness without really understanding it; the townspeople don't realize that Maryska's flirtations don't lead to anything. The brother can never speak without shouting, and what at first seems funny soon seems to be a sign of a mental problem. In the film's key scene, Peppin and Maryska climb a large smokestack together. Kindred spirits, they're just out for fun, but from the top they also escape, if only momentarily, the banality of village life.

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