DVD/Blu Ray

Happy End (15) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Oldrich Lipsky, Czechoslovakia, 1967, 73 mins, subtitled

Cast: Vladimir Mensik, Jaroslava Obermaierova, Josef Abrham

Review by Colin Dibben

This very strange and rather wonderful film uses a simple playing backwards of the visual film material to build up a real WTF viewing experience.

Bedrich (Mensik) is a Prague butcher who kills his wife Julie (Obermaierova) after he finds her in bed with another man (Abrham). He is then executed. Except that this is not the story. In Happy End the film runs backwards, so that it starts with Bedrich’s execution and the characters literally move backwards across the scenes to Julie’s killing, their marriage and courting and onto Bedrich’s childhood.

At the same time, the dialogue is reversed (rather than playing backwards: answers come before questions rather than the dialogue actually running backwards and being nonsensical) and Bedrich narrates a story that is, according to him, being shown by the film running backwards. In his narration, his own execution is his birth, his jail time is his schooling and so on, to very confusing effect.

The effect is bizarre but fun. On the one hand, the film runs on one ‘gag’ and this can get a bit dreary. On the other hand, your experience of this gag develops as you watch and gets you thinking about the nature of film narrative as well as odd thoughts thrown up by the weirdness of the reversed dialogue. This would probably work better on a second viewing as the first time you are flummoxed by the thing: I found myself trying to overturn the backwards motion and reconstitute the ‘original’ story and dialogue.

Lipsky’s film comes from the golden age of Czech cinema, when going to the cinema must have meant dealing every time with a dark, surreal world. If you have seen any Czech films from this era, you will probably recognise the great character actor Vladimir Mensik, whose sole starring role this is. Probably because the film form takes centre stage here, he isn’t quite as powerful a presence as you might expect – especially given that he is in almost every scene.

Happy End is filmed in sepia tones which set it in the 1920s or 30s, an era which suits its tale of a cuckolded husband getting revenge. It has been restored in 4K.

Happy End is out on Blu-ray from Second Run on 25 March 2024.