AFED #10: Adéla ještě nevečeřela [Dinner for Adele] (Czechoslovakia, 1977); Dir. Oldřich Lipský

The 1970's was a strange period for Czechoslovak cinema, the one-time darling of critics and festival goers. Although the Soviet invasion of Prague in August 1968 marked the beginning of the end for the cycle of films known as the Czech New Wave, the wealth of talent creative talent nurtured during this period didn't simply disappear into the ether now that the authorities started keeping a closer eye on their activities.

A few, most famously Milos Forman, defected to the West but for most it was a case of adapting to the new status quo. Perhaps unsurprisingly comedy and fantasy, always a vibrant component of the Czechoslovak film scene, assumed renewed significance as a creative outlet.

Works such as bizarre time travel comedy Zítra vstanu a opařím se čajemor ('Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea') or Juraj Herz's Beauty and the Beast adaptation Panna a netvor may not have had the same subversive intent of their predecessors but still show a national cinema that could punch above its weight in terms of quality and creativity.

Another example is Oldřich Lipský's comic fantasy Dinner for Adele, a homage of sorts to the pulp melodramas of a old, cross-fertilised with a surrealist sensibility.

It's the turn of the century and Nick Carter, "America's most famous detective" (a pulp character who's actually been doing the rounds almost as long as Sherlock Holmes) travels to Prague on his latest case. A dog has disappeared in mysterious circumstances and suspicions turns to a large and curious looking plant with carnivorous tendencies. When the plant, the eponymous Adele, is stolen back Carter finds himself drawn into a battle of wits with The Gardener, an old nemesis he'd presumed dead, and faces a race against time to uncover the villain's dastardly intentions.

Suffice to say that the tone is decidedly tongue in cheek in a style vaguely reminiscent of the 1975 Doc Savage and clearly owing a debt to The Little Shop of Horrors. Carter is a parody of the superhero detective, as evidenced in the opening scene in which he effortlessly thwarts three different attempts to kill him without leaving his office chair.

There's nothing sophisticated about the humour on show, it's broad slapstick which often harkens back to the silent movie era. Director Lipský was a tried and tested comedy veteran who'd tasted success with earlier work such as the western The Lemonade Kid and avoided controversy during the New Wave years.

The most creative elements of the Dinner for Adele come courtesy of legendary Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, who applied his skills to animating the plant scenes and devising the array of tricks and gadgets Carter and his rival deploy. It's a long way from the uncompromising work for which Švankmajer is best known but complements the the distinctive visual look of the film.

Overall there's a lot to like about it; style and flavour, tongue-in-cheek performances and obvious affection for the material that inspired it all. Yet somehow there wasn't quite enough to get excited about; I hoped for something a little weirder than was ultimately delivered.


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