Jiří Menzel’s Cutting it Short (or Shortcuts) never got the same reputation in the US as, say, Closely Watched Trains (one of three or four films I think of when I think of movies that got me into cinema), but it’s a funny, sentimental film that reminds of Amarcord, or Tati without the fear of modernism and technology.
As it happens I just read Bohumil Hrabal’s “Too Loud a Solitude;” he wrote Cutting it Short as a sort of nostalgia. The film is certainly not plotless, but it does have the effect of memory, where everything seems to exist in a pleasant, isolated vacuum. Nothing in Cutting it Short is too urgent – the stakes are relatively low throughout – and in that way the film also feels more literary than screenwriterly.
None of that should detract from what is a tender film that is sometimes surprisingly erotic and also frequently hilarious. Magda Vásáryová is Maryska. She has magnificently long hair – one of the many things referred to in the title – and is the carefree wife of Francin (Jirí Schmitzer), the manager of a local brewery. He’s far less nonchalant, but they still live a happy existence. Even when the owners of the brewery – Francin’s bosses – aren’t happy with the goings-on, his wife makes them forget their troubles by cooking up a huge pig roast and serving beer. As I’ve noted in many a blog post this past year, you’ll be hard pressed to find a (good) Czech film that doesn’t feature drinking in some way. Cutting it Short is no exception. If this doesn’t look refreshing, what does?
I doubt this is the original poster, but regardless, I want it:
Things change for Francin and Maryska when his brother, Pepin (Jaromír Hanzlík) comes to visit. Pepin is a shouter. That’s what it sounds like. He shouts all the time. It’s amazing that Menzel was able to pull this off without being annoying, because damn, Pepin is loud. But Menzel does it narratively (Pepin doesn’t shout once he’s put to work), and by playing with sound for comedy – Pepin’s voice echoes from ridiculous places throughout the movie.
There are a lot of great set pieces in Cutting it Short. This one, where Maryska and Pepin defy Francin and climb a chimney to the dismay of the local fire department feels pulled from Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton by the angles and the contrast between the bumbling brigade on the ground and the unworried protagonists above. The inept local enforcement also doesn’t feel far from the critiques of many 1960s Czech films (i.e The Firemen’s Ball):
One of the most memorable and somewhat uncomfortable scenes comes towards the end when Francin publicly punishes Maryska in plain view of everyone:
Perhaps you can tell why it’d be both. To be fair to Menzel, the two characters have showed quite the penchant for some risqué sexuality throughout, so it’s not like this is out of the blue, or pure humiliation But those men standing around watching feels rather awkward.
That said, Maryska is a good character in the film. She’s clever and “runs” the business without ever hinting as much. One of the best moments in the film comes towards the end where, as the title implies, she gets a haircut. The same barber who earlier in the movie so lovingly washed her hair-
-now can barely contain his misery at fulfilling her request:
The title doesn’t refer only to her hair. By the end everything is cut shorter – a table, the workday, worker’s pay, and so on. For me the title seems to refer to progress, which the film is about (Maryska gets a haircut based on a current style; the workday is cut shorter because of new advancements at the brewery), and also to a happier way of living where taking shortcuts don’t matter because the stakes aren’t high.