What to stream this weekend: Czech film on train journey from hell comes to Netflix

After making the rounds at film festivals, the dark comedy is now capturing wider audiences with its satire of Czech people.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 03.11.2022 18:00:00 (updated on 04.11.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

A driverless train with the passengers locked inside – this could be the start of a Kafkaesque story. Instead, it is the plot of the comedy-drama "Emergency Situation" ("Mimořádná událost" in Czech) which, after reaping awards at film festivals since its launch in February, is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Directed by Jirí Havelka (known for the 2019 movie "Vlastníci," or "Owners"), the film won the main prize for best comedy, best screenplay, best director, and also the audience's choice award Laughing Pot at the 44th annual festival of Czech film comedy in Nové Město nad Metují in Náchodsk, according to Czech Radio.

A movie based on a real emergency situation

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Shot on the Kolešovice - Chrášťany train line, the movie was inspired by a real incident that happened in February 2019 to a passenger train in Vysočina going between Martinice and Velký Meziříč, which traveled several kilometers without a driver, and without any of its 11 passengers sustaining any injuries, Havelka told ČTK ahead of the movie's premiere.

"The train was traveling through the Bohemian-Moravian highlands and stopped because it had a brake problem, the driver got out, bled the brakes and it started back up by itself due to gravity. The train was going, completely out of control, but stopped again on the uphill, so nothing happened, it took 14 minutes and we made a feature film about it," said Havelka.

An array of familiar characters

The film does a great job at capturing types familiar to anyone who has lived in the Czech Republic (or Central Europe in general): the nature-loving man heading to the chata (cottage house) for the weekend; the elderly, nosy woman who overshares her life; the grumpy man going to meet his hunting buddies. Two of the characters carry silver thermos bottles that are ubiquitous on any Czech train ride, none of them filled with the expected content. There is řízek (escalope), as well as liquor-filled chocolates to help the travelers withstand their bizarre train ride.

It also peppers in some international stereotypes painted with Wes Anderson brushstrokes (with summer-day visuals also reminiscent of the U.S. filmmaker), like an ageless man who owns a funeral home, and a little boy wise beyond his years (and likely wiser than his father who lost him while on a biking trip, and didn't notice until almost the end of the movie).

A special mention should go a married couple (played by well-known Czech actors Igor Chmela and Jana Plodková), whose destructive dynamic would be funny if it didn't ring so true.

Hot topics mixed with easy laughs

The movie also brings up current issues, such as anti-Roma prejudice, mental health, terrorism, and politicians jumping on the bandwagon of social media trends for electoral capital. One of its flaws is the levity with which these are treated, just like other jokes in a seemingly never-ending roast, leaving audiences with little time to digest what they've just heard.

A baffling fact is that, in our internet-hyperconnected age, none of the train's passengers was able to produce a functioning mobile phone to contact the outside world about the incident.

"Emergency situation" has a rating of 66 percent on the Czech-Slovak Film Database (Česko-Slovenská filmová databáze), with one user praising Havelka's "style and humor, which reminded (him) of the most famous comedic period of the Czechoslovak film era." Other users were less happy with the length of the film, saying that the material would have been better suited to a shorter production, and that the sketches and stories were not well-connected to each other.

The movie has a happy ending that sees the train's passengers tipsily climbing down the train at the station that was their starting point – a light-hearted way to wrap up what is ultimately a quirky, feel-good movie.

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