Capek's Tales


Director: Martin Fric
Year: 1947
Rating: 7.0
Country: Czechoslavakia

This Czech film from 1947 is composed of a string of five short stories from the great writer Karel Capek. Capek came up with the term robot in a play of his from the 1920's though he gives credit to his brother. The only thing I have read of his is the incredible sci-fi novel War with The Newts in which the human race goes to war with a breed of newts that have intelligence. He was a strong anti-Fascist but passed away in 1938 right before the Germans invaded his country. This film was made during the Communist period but it is set in 1934 before both the Germans and the Communists and so is non-political except for perhaps one bit in which the military look like buffoons. And of course was made when Czechoslovakia was one country.

All five stories are crime related but very different from one another as they go from tragedy to comedy to fantasy. The slight connecting cord is a police Commissioner who is either involved in the stories or an ear witness to them. He is trying to get away on vacation and catch his train when a man is brought in for being involved in a demonstration - this is Zaruba who has just been released from prison after 12 years and has forgotten how to talk - he gets caught up in this political protest when he thinks everyone is headed for the train station where he wants to go - it feels like Chaplin's tramp but not for long. Then a hysterical mother comes in saying her baby has been stolen and the description of wrinkles, a nose and eyes doesn't help when the police begin to search strollers. It is bad luck to take a photo of a baby before it is one apparently.

He finally makes the train but is told of two other past crimes while on it - one of a man who kills his sister because God told him to that is the longest of the five and is quite good. Then a stolen document from the military that takes a turn into humor in which a supposedly dimwitted local cop figures it out in a minute when the Military Police were at a loss - and then the final story is a peculiar switch to fantasy in which a murderer is brought before a tribunal in heaven and God is the witness. God tells the murderer that he can't judge him because he knows everything about him from the second he was born - so it is up to humans to do so - dead ones. He also informs the killer of the fate of the people he knew growing up - a touch of It's a Wonderful Life in how one's decisions impact others. It is a solemn but thoughtful note to end the film on.

All the stories are decent but what impressed me most was the fine acting from a myriad of characters who all felt real and were a cross section of society - all basically under played except for a terrific drunk scene in a tavern and a foolish General. This makes me want to see other Czech films from that period - probably not that easy to do.

Written up October, 2019