During the 1970s, the very specific Czech phenomenon of “chalupářství” (essentially retreating to one’s countryside cottage or countryhouse for the weekend, typically for gardening or DIY activities) offered the “normalised” citizens a way of escaping from the public space into their private little universes. The theme was addressed in excellent fashion by this bittersweet comedy co-written by screenwriters Zdeněk Svěrák and Ladislav Smoljak, which must rank among their timeless classics.
A Cottage Near the Woods tells the story of a Prague family that decides to buy a traditional countryhouse. It was inspired by the film creators’ own experiences, yet at the same time it represents something of a case study with a subtle and humanistic outreach. The elderly Komárek’s character is based on a real-life figure. This countryman’s house is slowly falling into disrepair, but the Lavičkas decide to buy it. Yet the old man keeps on postponing the sale, meaning the eager Praguers end up having to spend their weekends and holidays with him. Svěrák and Smoljak manage to devise many rewarding comical situations in which city dwellers are rather uncomfortable when confronted by realities of the rural environment. A good contrast to the empathetic approach of the Lavičkas, who eventually become fond of Komárek, is represented by the Zvon family. They acquire a former millhouse and turn it into a kitschy mansion... The Lavička family father is played by Svěrák, while the part of the “miller” Zvon is taken on by Smoljak. However, the picture stands and falls with the performance of Komárek, an earthy character portrayed by the then 54-year-old Josef Kemr. The part of Lavička’s friend, the doctor Olda, is performed by Jan Tříska, although prior to the fall of the regime in 1989, the censor cut Tříska out of the film version broadcast on national television.
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