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Foreign Film - Czechoslovakia - Who Wants to Kill Jessie?

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Who Wants To Kill Jessie ?
Kdo Chce Zabit Jessii?
Karel Effa, Vladimir Mensik, Olga Schoberova
Directed by Vaclav Vorlicek
Czechoslovakia 1966
Black and White
Czech with English subtitles
Facets Video 2006
80 minute

Anyone who’s familiar with the Czech New Wave film movement of the 1960s knows of films like Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball or the radical, freewheeling Daisies by Vera Chytilová, films borne of the Czechs’ increasing opposition to the Communist regime in Eastern Europe. Many of these films use fantasy-based plot devices to couch their radical messages, and presumably to cover their creators’ collective bums -- especially after the Soviet clampdown that ended the Prague Spring in 1968.

Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is a lesser-known example. The delightfully silly story of this foreign film DVD encompasses industrial design, science, comic book characters brought to life, jealousy... and yes, even a little dash of desire. Jindrich is trying to design a set of anti-gravity gloves for heavy lifting, which happens to be an idea he cribbed from a comic book. Jindrich’s equally-brainy scientist wife, Ruzenka, has created a method to zap bad dreams. But there’s a problem: her invention scoops those nightmares out of dreamland and plops them into the real world.

Next thing you know, the nubile heroine of Jindrich’s favourite comic is being chased around town by a bizarre cowboy-and-superman team of villains. And then things get downright weird.

Obviously there’s something wrong with Jindrich and Ruzenka’s life together -- or maybe it’s something even deeper: Jindrich’s staff is made up completely of available young women, yet he falls for the comic book character that Ruzenka accidentally zaps into being by shooting him full of her dream serum without his knowledge.

However, instead of getting bogged down by stuff like character exposition and psyche explorations, the film takes off on a two-laughs-per-minute ride, where a badass in a cape can pull someone through the wall by a phone line one minute, then play a piano sonata the next.

But there is a strain of social commentary as well: unflattering depictions of mindless Communist bureaucrats and corrupt prison officials hint at the dim view that Vorlicek and many of his colleagues took of the prevailing politics in Eastern Europe at the time.

Vorlicek is definitely better known for his whimsical holiday classic, Three Wishes for Cinderella, and Schoberová is probably more familiar to North American Audiences as Olinka Berova (as Paramount named her after 1968’s The Venegance of She).

Who Want to Kill Jessie? is a nice moment in both their careers: This foreign film is a light fantastic comedy DVD that isn’t weighed down by such bothersome things as logic or realism, and as such, it works very, very well.

Jesse Corbeil is a freelance writer. You can find him at www.jessecorbeil.ca

Jesse Corbeil

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