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Cosy Dens (Czech: Pelíšky) is a Czech cult film from 1999. Directed by Jan Hřebejk, it is a tragicomic exploration of life under Communist regime.

It follows the lives of two Prague families shortly before and through the Prague Spring of 1968, when there was hope that, after twenty years behind the Iron Curtain, the regime would become more liberal, or even that the country could become democratic again.

The Šebeks are headed by a father who is an officer in the Czechoslovak People’s Army; he believes in the ideology of the regime and tries to impose order and discipline in his family, causing conflict with his Western-minded teenage son Michal. The latter is vying for the attentions of his next-door neighbor Jindřiška, but she is more interested in the worldly Elien, a mature teenager whose parents live in America. Jindřiška’s father, the paterfamilias of the Kraus family, is a perpetually choleric World War II veteran whose contribution to his country’s freedom and his fight against Nazis was "rewarded" by years spent inside Communist prison. He takes his bitterness out on his family and clashes with his daughter over petty issues. These squabbles play out over a rather boisterous 1967 Christmas holiday; the second act moves the plot to the spring of 1968, and focuses more on changes both within the families and in society.

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The title is ironic in that the two families’ homes are not particularly cozy due to the differences among family members, yet resonant in that one’s home is where one can be oneself and get a measure of refuge from the oppressive government.

Czechs consistently rank Cosy Dens as one of their favorite movies and best comedies of all time. Its appeal lies to a great extent in its inclusion of many pithy quotes, as well as of elements based on a distinctly Czech experience; for this reason, it may not resound as much with foreigners, who may not get much of the humor, similarly to the critically acclaimed Kolya.

A prequel trilogy, Garden Centre (Zahradnictví), was released in 2017. Before that, in 2010, Občanský průkaz (Identit card), another book of Petr Šabach was filmed and serves basically as Spiritual Successor to Cosy Dens. It takes part in The '70s and follows a group of teenage boys trying to follow their "hippie" dreams while under the much harsher regime of "Normalisation", brought to the country by the Soviet invasion.

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This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The two fathers are domestic tyrants who have no understanding for their teenage children and react very aggressively to their displays of individuality and petty rebellion. They are not above throwing insults, demeaning criticism and even physical projectiles at them. They do seem to have become more resigned to their children’s ways by the second act.

  • Acceptable Targets: The Communists and the Soviet invaders. This applies in-universe to Father Kraus, who famously shouts out “Workers of the world, kiss my ass!” from his balcony. For Father Šebek, it’s everything that comes with capitalism and Western influences.

  • Beehive Hairdo: Mrs. Šebek has a very big one; it was created from the actress’s real hair.

  • Berserk Button:
    • Don’t put a picture of Mick Jagger or any other hippie type (called 'longhairs') on Father Šebek’s notice board. He'll tear it to pieces and throw an epic tantrum.
    • Don’t under any circumstances call the exquisite Viennese potato dumplings made by Mrs Kraus 'gnocchi'. Mr Kraus hates gnocchi. Gnocchi are gnocchi and dumplings are dumplings. He even smashes Jindriska's glass door in his fit of rage.
    • Address Mr Kraus as 'comrade' is a really bad idea. Try it, and you'll live to regret it. Saša addresses him as Comrade, gets a moderately bug Big "WHAT?!" and then Mr Kraus whips him with his walking stick.

  • Book-Ends: The movie begins and ends with failed suicide attempts. At the beginning, Michal tries to hang himself in a gazebo in front of their house to show Jindriska how unhappy he's without her. He falls down because the gazebo is almost broken and the construction is in poor state. Jindriska finds him on the ground and comforts him. At the end, Michal's father wants to hang himself at the same place and also fails to kill himself. His brother finds him and comforts him. Both look heart-broken.

  • Bratty Half-Pint: The teacher’s son acts up before all of his mother’s prospective suitors, in order to drive them away one by one. He turns out to be a good judge of their characters as they are all inadequate choices and ends up being rewarded with Father Kraus, who takes a liking to him and dotes on him, as his eventual stepfather.

  • Bungled Suicide: Due to his unrequited affection toward Jindřiška (and perhaps partly due to dissatisfaction with his home life), Michal tries and fails twice, by trying to hang himself in the gazebo, whereupon the construction collapses, and then by gassing himself - in an electric oven. Then his father tries to hang himself in the same gazebo after the Soviets occupy Czechoslovakia, failing for the same reason as his son did.

  • Commie Land: At a point in history where there were hopes that the regime would be relaxed; these are dashed by the end of the movie.

  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Michal and Jindřiška.

  • Cool Uncle: Uncle Václav is fun-loving and easy going, in contrast to his disciplinarian brother Undermined by the fact that we see more of his interactions with the latter (he seems to be able to bring out Father Šebek’s boyish side) than with his nephew and niece.

  • Crappy Holidays: They try, but neither the Šebeks nor the Krauses manage to pull off a nice family Christmas. In the former case, the men of the family get just a little too wild; in the latter, the season is marred by overreaction to largely petty issues. Jindřiška and Michal bond over it.

  • Creator Provincialism: The film is replete with references to Czech culture and recent history, giving it a strong local appeal but little fame outside its homeland. An English-language page such as this one cannot do it full justice; if there were a Czech version of TV Tropes, Pelíšky would likely be ur-example or codifier of various strictly local tropes (e.g. Gnocchi vs. Dumplings).

  • Daddy's Girl: Father Šebek appears to have a warmer relationship with his younger daughter, Uzlinka.

  • Deadpan Snarker: Father Kraus has snarking as second nature. His daughter Jindřiška is catching up.

  • Did Not Get the Girl: Michal doesn’t succeed in winning over Jindřiška’s affections. After Michal suggests that, her boyfriend Elien having emigrated, they could start dating, she uses their just having become cousins though marriage as a pretext for rejecting his proposal.

  • Downer Ending: The Soviets occupy Czechoslovakia, dashing the hopes of the Prague Spring. The Krauses emigrate and Father Šebek suffers a breakdown from being disillusioned with Communism.

  • Dysfunctional Family: Mainly due to generational differences and the fathers’ hard-headedness, as well as Father Kraus’ bitter nature. Nonetheless, they manage to stick together.

  • Girl Next Door: Jindřiška lives in the same house as Michal and the house has just two flats. She's very pretty, clever and down-to-earth.

  • Happily Married: The Šebeks are happy together, much happier than the Krauses. It's because Women Are Wiser — and Mrs Šebek definitely is. She knows how to handle her husband and genuinely likes him. He is fond of his wife as well.

  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: When Czech people watch the fathers’ outbursts toward their children, they tend to find a lot of humor in them. This seems to be because the fathers’ behavior caricatures a kind of paternal despotism that seems to have been common.

  • Insistent Terminology: During Christmas lunch, Jindřiška and Father Kraus butt heads over whether Mrs. Kraus made dumplings or gnocchi. The debate quickly gets very ugly.

  • Just Following Orders: The policeman who carelessly admits to a classroom of teenagers that he shot innocent motorcyclist (a mailman to boot!) who seemed to match the description of an alleged spy, justifies it with the stock phrase “I had clear orders”.

  • Mood Whiplash: The film alternates a lot between comic and serious situations; this is seen most strongly when the teenagers are attending an illicit viewing of a Western film on the street, which is interrupted by Father Kraus coming to tell Jindřiška that her mother has died.

  • My New Gift Is Lame:
    • The Šebeks’ Christmas Eve. Michal imagines a pair of American-style boots inside the present that his father gives him. Predictably, it turns out to be a pair of army-style boots, complete with matching socks.
    • Mrs Šebek gets a set of glasses made from supposedly unbreakable glass …which end up being breakable if one throws them hard enough.
    • Jindřiška gets a hand-made cigarette box shaped like a camel. She asks whether it's a dog to annoy her father who made it.
    • A wonder of Communist technology, plastic spoons which dissolve in the coffee. Mr Šebek's wedding present... This leads to one of the most famous lines in this movie: "I would just like to know where comrades in East Germany made a mistake!"

  • My Way or the Highway: The two fathers are shown to be despots and implied to see themselves as absolute heads of their households. This is most clearly manifested in the petty argument that flares up during Christmas lunch at the Kraus’s, in the presence of a doctor who has come as a guest. A discussion develops about the way the dumplings turned out. Jindřiška asserts that, being “gnocchi”, they turned out just as they should have. Her father is infuriated that she should refer to her mother’s potato dumplings as “gnocchi”. When Jindřiška won’t back down and starts quoting a recipe for gnocchi, her father goes ballistic. He chews her out for behaving that way toward her father in front of a guest and orders her to leave his presence with a slew of verbal abuse which includes the invective: “This is still my apartment and nothing here belongs to you, not even that dumpling!” The fight culminates in Jindřiška fleeing to her room, into which her father hurls a heavy object through the translucent glass screen.

  • Not So Different:
    • Father Šebek and Father Kraus are polar opposites on the ideological spectrum, the former being a convinced Communist and the latter a First Republic patriot and former political prisoner displaying old-school values that are considered reactionary. Both, however, are equally hard-headed in their convictions and in their desire to impose their values on their families.
    • Jindřiška is somewhat consternated to see a resemblance between a rather handsome photo from her crusty father’s youth and her slick boyfriend Elien.

  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Mr Sebek tears his son Michal's poster of Mick Jagger into small pieces, crumples it up and then throws the crumpled pieces on the ground. He hates everything Western and hippie-like. Michal made his sister to put it on their father's noticeboard on purpose to tick him off. Mr Sebek was already in a bad mood because he's hungover, but the poster got under his skin real bad.

  • Ray of Hope Ending: It’s subtle, but Uzlinka manages to rescue her cousin's abandoned pet birds from the Kraus’s apartment, which was seized after they emigrated to the West. The fall of Communism 21 years later is a Foregone Conclusion, given that the movie was released a decade after the fact.

  • Society Marches On: Father Kraus’ backstory is Truth in Television. After the Communists came to power shortly after World War II, they attempted to discredit the contributions of citizens who had valiantly fought to liberate Czechoslovakia while serving in foreign armed forces and the British-organized Czechoslovak Army in Exile (because the Czech lands were made into a German protectorate and Slovakia was a Nazi puppet state, and these thus had no internal forces which could fight on the side of the Allies). Many were even convicted on trumped-up charges and interned in labor camps. Today, these wronged veterans have been fully rehabilitated and are regularly honored. A monument to Czechoslovak airmen who served in World War II was built in Prague in 2014; unlike the large airplane-shaped one envisioned by Father Kraus in the movie, it is a modest-sized winged lion and lies in the Klárov district near the river rather than on the promontory at Letná (where a giant metronome has filled the void left when the short-lived statue of Stalin shown in a photograph in the film was demolished).

  • The '60s: A subdued version from behind the Iron Curtain. Western music and other influences are present, but are enjoyed somewhat clandestinely and difficult to obtain.

  • Their First Time: Jindřiška and Elien are implied to have had sex before he emigrates to join his parents in America. It was likely their first time.

  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The book “Hovno hoří!” (Flaming Feces), on which the film was based, was inspired by true events that the author, Petr Šabach, had witnessed (The little son of Jindřiška’s homeroom teacher is based on the author as an onlooker). The screenplay is a loose adaptation of the book.

  • Women Are Wiser: The women of the Šebek clan are seen to be more level-headed than their male counterparts.

 
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Mr Sebek is not a fan of posters. "What kind of ugly longhair of a hippie is this?" -- "You mean Yuri Gagarin's brother?" -- "...And I wanted to put you in charge of this noticeboard, punk."

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Main / PaperDestructionOfAnger

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