With the likes of Rare Exports and Tokyo Godfathers becoming cult classics around this time of year, and after a handful have cropped up in the past, this year’s Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar focuses solely on foreign language/ non-English Christmas films. Some simply less heard of around the world, and in some cases their home country, while others aren’t deeply rooted in the season. And so, via this year’s Calendar, let’s go abroad for this year’s Christmas vacation.
We start this year’s Calendar with a look at the highly recognisable scenes of festive family gatherings. 1999’s Cosy Dens’ Czech title Pelíšky can be translated to mean the plural of a small animal den or burrow. It’s this feeling which the film gets across as it focuses on a pair of bickering families, and apartment neighbours, in the winter of 1967.
The political tensions of the time make their way into much of the conversation, and the comedy, which particularly lines the first half of the film which follows a Christmas in two busy apartments. One led by a proudly communist-supporting former army officer (Miroslav Donutil), who could happily spend his time praising the ‘unbreakable’ glassware that communism has brought, no matter how low-quality it may be. The other (Jiří Kodet), just upstairs, is a passionate anti-communist who has been imprisoned multiple times for his views against the regime. It’s become an annual tradition his insistence that “the Bolsheviks have a year left at most, maybe two”, much like the political arguments and insults thrown between the pair between windows and down stairwells. However, the film is more concerned with their children.
Michal (Michael Beran) has a crush on the girl upstairs, Jindřiška (Kristýna Nováková), the two are already very good friends and are very much aware of the feud between the families. But, Romeo and Juliet territory this is not. The film views the contrasts of the pairs family Christmases and the arguments that still ensue. Both are fed up of the politics that’s being thrown around the homes and it’s very much the words and actions of the parents which are turned into jokes – including a simple test to prove how long someone can hold their breath for and tears over whether dumplings have been cooked properly or not. The kids aren’t interested and are simply wanting to try and get on with their own lives.
It’s been said that if you’re Czech there’s something to laugh at in almost every scene through the historical contexts which lie within the film. For those viewing outside of the country, and perhaps unaware of the deeper points of the political backgrounds, there’s still plenty to laugh at in terms of the satire and familiar family interactions on display. Each one wonderfully observed and put together for a fine blend of satire and occasional cringe humour.
The Christmas setting and sequences echo into the second half of the film where the real tensions between the families, and lying within the country as it’s depicted at the time in the build-up to the Prague Spring, come more to the fore. While leading up to actual events in the country, Christmas appears to be a great time for the film to start building up its points and rising tensions amongst the images of families looking at very different views of a collective and individual future – perhaps not quite in the same way that we hear Slade singing about each year. There may be plenty to recognise and chuckle at throughout Cosy Dens, particularly in the first hour, and it’s largely thanks to the Christmas theme and setting which effectively echoes into the events of the film’s second half with a largely different response.
Cosy Dens can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
Or, you might have, or be able to find, a physical copy somewhere. To see if the film is available to buy, rent or stream anywhere else, particularly in your country, it’s always worth checking JustWatch.