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A Walk Worthwhile

The result is amusing enough, given the lively nature of the material itself, but a mere footnote in the Forman oeuvre, unlikely to see much play beyond the smallscreen.

With: Petr Stach, Peter Pisa, Dasa Zazvurkova, Tereza Halova, Jiri Suchy.

Czech maestro Milos Forman has filmed Jiri Suchy and Jiri Slitr’s popular jazz opera “A Walk Worthwhile” once before, co-directing a modest black-and-white version of the wily sex farce between “Loves of a Blonde” and “The Firemen’s Ball.” More than 40 years later, Forman returned to stage the musical with his twin sons at Prague’s National Theater, where the show was such a success, they decided to record it for posterity. The result is amusing enough, given the lively nature of the material itself, but a mere footnote in the Forman oeuvre, unlikely to see much play beyond the smallscreen.

Like Ingmar Bergman’s “The Magic Flute,” this made-for-TV production unfolds right onstage, but it makes less of an attempt to translate the theatrical experience to screen (both intermission and curtain call are left intact). Multiple cameras offer different distances and angles on the action, occasionally cutting back to reveal the faces of the crowd, without doing anything to disrupt the show’s traditional proscenium style.

After providing a few scenic glimpses of Prague over the opening credits, the pic moves inside the theater, where a female chorus sets the irreverent tone. Onstage, a beautiful girl emerges, “sent by the stage manager to satisfy your urges,” as the mischievous singers explain. The lovely young lady plays no role other than to jumpstart the aud’s interest, and no sooner has she made a formal walk downstage than the story can properly commence.

Husband and wife Uli (Petr Stach) and Vanilla (Dasa Zazvurkova) are ready to sign their divorce papers when a telegram arrives from Vanilla’s rich Auntie, bequeathing a million to their unborn child. Not willing to let something as minor as marital discord sabotage their chance at such a fortune, the couple immediately start scheming to get their hands on the money.

After professing his newfound love for Vanilla, Uli sets off after the lawyer (Peter Pisa) to annul their annulment. While he’s gone, the savvy advocate circles back to make his own proposal: There’s nothing in the letter that says Uli must be the child’s father, so the lawyer adopts the flowery hyperbole of Uli’s earlier song to profess his love for Vanilla as well.

But Vanilla is clever, too, realizing that if she can fool an unsuspecting stranger into bed, then raise the child herself, she needn’t split the inheritance with anyone. Her nearest target is the hapless postman, who, in a decidedly Eastern European twist, gets an entire song celebrating his long career (while the others seek easy money, he embodies the country’s hard-working ideal). As the postman, co-writer Suchy reprises the role from decades earlier (when his collaborator Slitr held the Uli part, making for a better-matched rivalry than this one).

Just when the characters seem to have exhausted every loophole, the loaded old lady (Terezza Halova) arrives from Liverpool, giving Uli and the lawyer — both focused entirely on her fortune now — a chance to cut Vanilla out of the equation. In Halova’s hands, Auntie comes off like a Czech Liza Minnelli, nailing the show’s best number and winning auds over with a melancholy account of past romantic disasters.

True to form, the satire manages a few final twists before rewarding its most deserving character. The ending may be the only detail that wouldn’t be right at home in an old screwball comedy, and given the wickedly cynical tone of the whole affair, it’s easy to imagine how the material might delight as a more conventional movie.

Jan Malir’s widescreen framing has a tendency to amputate the tops of characters’ heads, with the show’s lighting scheme evidently altered to accommodate shooting on film (the house lights seem to remain on throughout). Helmer enlisted his two oldest sons in the endeavor, with Petr Forman co-directing the play and Matej Forman handling stage design duties. The highlight of the latter’s contributions is a giant picture window in which the characters’ fantasies and memories unfold.

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A Walk Worthwhile

Czech Republic

Production: A Falcon release of a Radka Prod. production in association with Narodni Divaldo. Produced by Radka Kadlecova. Directed by Milos Forman. Screenplay, Jiri Suchy, Jiri Slitr.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Jan Malir; editor, Tonicka Jankova; music, Marko Iranovic; art director, Matej Forman; sound (Dolby), Viktor Ekrt, David Hysek, Tomas Zubek. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Special Events), July 4, 2009. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Petr Stach, Peter Pisa, Dasa Zazvurkova, Tereza Halova, Jiri Suchy.

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