Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Marecek, Pass Me the Pen! (1976)

An industrial factory is getting an overhaul, and present supervisor Kroupek must retake his high school exams and graduate in order to keep his job. Having just been critical of his son for not doing well in his studies, Kroupek must now put his money where his mouth is, and either show how well he remembers his old classes, or else the factory will be in the hands of a scheming coworker...

The amusingly titled Marecek, Pass Me the Pen! is a gem of Czechoslovakian comedy. It has a great concept, and one ripe for potential stories and gags. I'd say if this has any big problem, it's mainly that there could've been more. I could imagine this as a tv series, like Mind Your Language, where each week is a new amusing situation.

The message here is an effective one, and there is a goodhearted conclusion.

The characters are a nice bunch. It's amusing seeing how these middle aged folk all revert to classroom hijinx, such as playing pranks on one another, messing with the teacher, trying to get out of studying, passing around notes, and developing schoolyard crushes (despite all being married!). The villain of the piece is Hujer, a smarmy and incompetent scrub who is in danger of becoming the new factory's foreman, if Kroupek is unable to graduate.

I especially liked the relationship between father and son. Jiří starts off like an underachiever, before you realise not only is he doing better in his studies than his brow-beating father realises, but he actually ends up being the one capable of tutoring him. Though Kroupa is too stubborn to admit it till it's almost too late.

The comedy here is successful, getting lots of material out of its setting and characters, paired together nicely. These range from trouble and misunderstandings over classroom notes, to a confusion when one student reads about a parent teacher conference and wonders if this means he has to get his elderly parents from a few villages over.

My favourite parts were the discussions of what Hubris means, and the ineffectual sowing machine. The Romanian scene also made me crack up. Some of the dialogue and wordplay might go over the heads of foreigners, but the majority of it you'll get the gist of easily enough.

There was one joke at the very start that I was expecting a payoff for though, and it never came. I wish I'd known, because I was eager to see what damage would be wrought because of the lazy builder's chalk line over feet.

This is never a bad movie, and I don't really have any complaints. The ending however was a real disappointment. There isn't one, really! The way the plot is paced, it feels like there's still got to be a fair amount of time left, yet there's only 5 minutes. So how is the movie going to resolve all of this? The answer is it doesn't. Kroupek does poorly in his latest test, he asks his son for help and they study, then the movie skips ahead to the completed factory. It just leaves us to assume he graduated. It's disappointing, not only because I actually wanted to see that, but also the successess of the other students. I wanted to see Hujer get his full comeuppance, and Mrs. Týfová learn a lesson about propriety (although her last scene is an amusingly fitting one).

The actors all give fun performances, and each have their own unique charms. A couple did blend together a little, but overall they still amused. Jiří Sovák is a fine lead, while his real life son Jiří Schmitzer is nice, and shares good chemistry with those around him. The teachers are lots of fun, even if I sometimes wished there were more of them, or they appeared more consistently.

The music here is nice enough, with a particularly neat piece being a medley of what sounds like classic Tinpan Alley songs over the end. They're a bit random and abrupt sometimes, but it's still a fun treat, and does make you leave the film in a reasonably positive mood even if you have been left disappointed by the ending.

While not my favourite Czech comedy, Marecek, Pass Me the Pen! is still a nice fun time. It's a very casual movie to just pop on and enjoy, especially for European aficionados...

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