Sunday 29 May 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve More Attention - 1. Happy End

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Director - Oldrich Lipský
Country - Czechoslovakia
Year - 1967
Runtime - 71 Minutes

Choosing my first film for this series posed an enormous challenge; I wanted to pick something that would convince you of my ability to unearth forgotten classics without placing too much of a demand on those taking the plunge on my first suggestion. Some people may consider an overlooked black and white Czechoslovakian film from 1967 as too much of a punt but those who do would be missing out on one of the most innovative and downright entertaining films I have seen in years. With a runtime of just over an hour - and the entirety of the film available to stream on YouTube - there is no excuse for ignoring my recommendation, and I am fairly certain that anyone who watches this will be back for my second article in the series.

Many successful directors have played around with the notion of time as a narrative device; Christopher Nolan's Memento, David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible all do this to give their stories an edge by taking the audience down unexpected timelines, but Oldrich Lipský's Happy End introduces a brilliant method of storytelling that is quite unlike anything I have ever encountered before.

It is not unusual for a film to begin with the death of an important character. However, in this instance, the scene is played out in reverse with our protagonist's freshly decapitated head rolling up from the floor to join its body as the executioner's blade is lifted up from the block. A voice-over informs us that this is the birth of Bedrich Frydrych (also known as The Butcher) and whilst the narration continues to describe the start of his life, the on screen action plays out in reverse for the film's entirety, creating a strange yet enthralling view of The Butcher's life.

The Butcher's stint in prison prior to his execution is narrated as if it is his formative childhood years, and the reason for his incarceration leads to one of the most morbidly fascinating scenes in the film when we are introduced to his wife and her lover. It may take a few moments to get your head around this backwards tale but once you do it is so utterly compelling that you won't ever want it to end.

Oldrich Lipský clearly had a lot of fun putting Happy End together; his visual gags have a timeless quality, and watching everyday life play out in reverse is far more entertaining than you could ever imagine. Observing people eating their food backwards is hilarious in its own right but when sex, murder and butchery enter the equation you find yourself in a whole new world of hilarious back-to-front shenanigans.

Clocking in at only 71 grin-inducing minutes, Happy End doesn't overstay its welcome but instead leaves you with a bitter-sweet sense of longing for more inspired madness. The jokes come thick and fast with barely any space for breathing room and range from moments of full blown slapstick comedy to smatterings of well-crafted word play which delight and amuse in equal measure. You will inevitably derive more pleasure from the gags that don't register until repeat viewings and this works to its advantage as Happy End is a film that deserves demands to be seen more than once.

Happy End is undoubtedly a work of comic genius but it also ventures into the realm of cinematic brilliance with its long takes that play out in reverse. The lively camera work heightens the feeling that you are watching something very special indeed, and the audacious shots are matched with a playful classical soundtrack that lightens the mood during the sombre scenes and adds a delightful poignancy to key emotional moments.

Why Happy End isn't more well known is beyond me, this classic comedy should easily sit alongside the greats of the genre and is definitely deserving of more attention, as you will hopefully find out for yourself. If you have come this far in reading my high praise for the first essential film that deserves more attention then what are you waiting for? Click play below and I guarantee you will be hooked in the first five minutes.

If you take the time to watch Happy End then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

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