Friday, 14 August 2020

Czech Film Review: Grapes (Bobule) 2008

By Lee Robert Adams | Prague Daily Monitor |
30 July 2020

It's been a funny kind of year so far, hasn't it? Usually one of the things I love most about living in the Czech Republic is the slow build-up to summer, with the palpable sense of anticipation that grows during the spring months before the good weather really sets in. It's been a different story in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, going into lockdown in early March and popping up again months later with summer already in full swing. Now we're only a few weeks away from the start of burčák season, which means autumn is already on its way...

This year also saw the release of 3Bobule, the third in the popular series of romantic comedies set among the vineyards of South Moravia. So with these two things combined, I thought it was the perfect time to check out the original film in the trilogy, Bobule...

The perennially baby-faced Kryštof Hádek (Dark Blue World, 3 Seasons in Hell) stars as Honza, a chlebíčky-loving Prague conman who runs a variety of scams with his dim-witted, skirt-chasing mate Jirka (Lukáš Langmajer). One of their main money-spinners involves Jirka picking up girls and going back to their place, then Honza poses as the owner to "rent" the victim's apartment to other unsuspecting tenants.

The confidence trickster thing isn't really working out for Honza, though. His landlord has cut off his electric because he can't afford the rent, and there's a pair of bumbling plainclothes cops on his trail.

When the heat gets too much, Honza and Jirka decide to skip town and stay with Honza's ailing grandfather, who owns a small vineyard in South Moravia and idles away his time watching travel videos of all the places he wishes he'd had the chance to experience. Grandpa raised Honza as a kid after his parents died in a car accident, only for him to abandon the old man to his grapes and rarely visit as an adult.

In an attempt to make amends, Honza uses his last Prague-based scam to pay for a trip to Argentina for his grandfather, convincing him that he'll be able to bring in the season's harvest in his absence - despite Honza's shaky knowledge of viticulture.

Romantic entanglements arise in the form of the forthright and beautiful Klárka (Tereza Voříšková), the daughter of a neighbouring vintner who has been helping out with grandpa's care in Honza's absence. As is often the way with these things, the path to love is initially blocked by Klárka's surly and clearly unsuitable boyfriend.

Honza very quickly sees a chance to redeem himself and become more responsible by bringing in grandpa's crop, as the gentle lifestyle of wine country strips away the edgy cynicism of his city-dwelling self.

After the Hollywood-esque comedy-thriller set-up in Prague, detailing Honza's crimes and skirmishes with the law, Grapes settles into a more relaxed and familiarly Czech rhythm once we get to the sun-drenched rolling landscapes of South Moravia.

The chase thriller element of the movie quickly disappears into the background, leaving us with a rambling romantic comedy where the stakes are low, but the strength of the performers keeps us engaged. While it feels small, Grapes is 90 minutes of feel-good entertainment spent in the company of some very likeable characters.

The film lightly pokes fun at the expense of the Praguers, who initially seem clueless when surrounded by grapevines instead of city blocks, and are befuddled by the straightforward lifestyle of the laid back, wine-imbibing locals. The Moravians seem to rank themselves rather above the city folk, thinking them daft for wanting to live in the urban sprawl and drink beer rather than live out in the open drinking good wine.

Jirka's desire for a beer when there isn't a bottle opener in sight provides a running gag, as does the Praguer's inability to handle the locals plying them with copious amounts of wine and burčák. The pair spend a lot of the movie half cut, often to the misfortune of grandpa's vintage Citroen 2CV.

The comedy may be mild and the romance simmers rather than sizzles, but it's not hard to see why Grapes was a hit. It feels more modern and "western" in its establishing scenes in Prague before following a traditional fish-out-of-water template set by many of its illustrious forebears. It shows typical reverence for the Czech countryside, with numerous swooping shots of the landscape and landmarks making it look at times like a tourist board showreel for South Moravia.

Love for the countryside and its famous wine is ubiquitous, and there are at least three scenes that hinge on the fermenting process of burčák. Respect for Czech traditions also runs deep - during a village dance, all three leads end up in the region's folk costume, without barely a joke made about it.

Grapes may not be vintage quality, but its seductive blend of comedy, romance and beautiful Czech landscapes make it an intoxicating summer crowd-pleaser.

Lee is a writer and film critic living in Brno. He studied film at uni, but dropped out halfway through because his tutor was always skiving off. He spent the next two decades using his half-education to passionately consume and write about movies. He has written for several outlets across the web, including the late-lamented Way Too Indie. In 2018 he founded Czech Film Review, approaching the cinema of his adopted home country from the perspective of a knowledgeable outsider.