Tomáš (Richard Krajčo) is possibly the movie-est movie optician in cinema history. He is a brooding tattooed hunk with rockstar looks who lives in a snowbound caravan just outside the Globus superstore where he works.

With only his beloved horse to keep him company on those lonely nights spent listening to vinyl while looking smoulderingly handsome, he also juggles several affairs with local married women to fend off the solitude. He is always getting drunk and late for work, but that doesn’t matter – his boss is in love with him too.

The only woman he shares a platonic relationship with is Nina (Vica Kerekes), a forlorn girl who works on the gift-wrapping counter, which must suck because she hates Christmas. She lives alone in an apartment full of unpacked boxes and he is estranged from his family, so they end up spending the holidays together. Unsurprisingly, romantic feelings develop between them as they fry fish together and break into their place of work to steal basketfuls of groceries and booze.

They are friends with Ráďa (David Novotný), a cheerful middle-aged security guard who works a second job as a taxi driver and privately holds deep grudges towards his wife’s parents; and Zajíc (Jakub Prachař), an aspiring actor who hates his demeaning job as the store’s cuddly mascot.

All four are lonely and frustrated in their way, and they frequently meet after work on the roof of the store to drink beer, smoke cigarettes and put the world to rights. After one of these sessions near Christmas, Tomáš accidentally slashes his wrist while drunkenly trying to open a jar of gherkins – possibly the most Czech way of almost killing yourself.

Stumbling out into the snow with blood gushing from his arm, Tomáš falls down and passes out. It looks like curtains, but suddenly a mysterious wind picks up and an unseen presence circles the stricken hunky optician – could it be an angelic saviour? Tomáš certainly seems to think so when he miraculously wakes up the next day with little more than a scar on his arm and a pounding hangover.

Back at work, Tomáš finds out that his strange encounter has left him with the ability to read people’s minds and see into their future, which freaks him out completely. While on the subject of miracles, each of the four friends makes a Christmas wish, which ends up coming true through a series of unusual coincidences and circumstances…

Wings of Christmas is a patchy film that never quite manages to bring all its very attractive strengths together into a satisfying narrative, making it feel a bit wishy-washy. It certainly makes the most of a likeable cast, who all get their moments to shine. Novotný is particularly impressive as the family man whose jovial exterior conceals deeper lusts and frustrations. The character actor is a familiar face from Czech TV and film, as his performance received a deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Czech Lion Awards.

Director Karin Babinská has a tender touch, finding little moments of magic in well-observed shots of the everyday routine of the supermarket. She is aided superbly by her editor and cinematographer, who help create a slightly detached, unreal atmosphere that suits the story well.

Richard Krajčo, also the frontman of the band Kryštof, provides the touchy-feely music, including the radio-friendly hit “Cesta” on the soundtrack. He would go on to marry Babinská a few years later.

While the cast is solid and the filmmaking is slick, the supernatural element of the story is so underused that the film would basically be the same without it. Tomáš’s mind-reading power is activated when he holds someone’s hand and looks them in the eye, which is very specific to his job, involving frequent hand and eye contact with his customers. He quickly discovers that he can block it out by wearing gloves and glasses with home-made lenses, but this aspect of the story is so weakly developed that it seems like just a ruse to let Krajčo rock a pair of pink shades.

Wings of Christmas is ultimately a tale of two solitary people who find each other during what can be the loneliest time of year for some. Sure, Tomáš and Nina might be two very attractive lonely people, but the film is shot through with a genuine sense of melancholy that makes their budding romance seem all the more poignant. Although the magical element doesn’t work, I suspect that this bittersweet tale might strike a chord with people after a challenging year that has caused a lot of introspection for many.

***

Wings of Christmas is showing on Czech Netflix at the time of writing.

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.