Happy End (1967)

Director: Oldrich Lipsky

Way back in the 1890s, the Lumiere brothers had already discovered the entertainment potential of reverse motion when they exhibited their Demolition of a Wall backwards so that it showed the titular wall rebuilding itself. I know nothing about Czech director Oldrich Lipsky beyond the fact that another of his films is called Four Murders are Enough, Darling (which I clearly have to see now, based purely on that title) and he evidently felt during the mid-60s that the Lumieres’ discovery needed to be applied to a feature-length film. The end result was… wow. Amazing what some filmmakers in at least some Communist countries could get away with, cos this is exactly the sort of thing that probably would’ve been denounced as formalism if it had been made under Stalin. Basically, Lipsky takes the idea of reverse motion and pushes it towards what may or may not be its logical conclusion, but is one of its funniest; the entire thing happens in reverse, the bits of action on the screen, the narrative in general, even individual lines of dialogue are given in reverse order. In other words, we begin with our hero, Bedrich, being executed for murdering his wife Julia and her lover Mr Birdie, and with, well, his head being reattached to his body after (before?) being guillotined, and it all goes backwards from there… The net result is, as I said, extremely funny (especially in the dialogue department, where it leads to some howling line juxtapositions), but also remarkably grotesque at times, as witness the kind of astounding un-murder scene where Mr Birdie not only flies into their third-floor apartment from the street but Bedrich puts the bits of Julia’s corpse back together in the bath. (Plus there’s an abattoir scene which I imagine many would find distressing enough if it were run forwards, but backwards it seems remarkably more ecch somehow.) It’s a bizarre film that your perhaps need a particular sense of dark humour for, but I thought it was a lot of fun (and I really do need to see more Czech New Wave stuff)…


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