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‘My Sweet Little Village’ (NR)

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 06, 1987

As the title suggests, the Czech import "My Sweet Little Village" ingratiates itself with an annoying persistence -- it might have been directed by a teddy bear. But the movie's lazy pace and old-fashioned gags slowly grow on you, too. You end up siding with "My Sweet Little Village" as it rejoices in the texture of an ordinary community.

At the heart of the movie is the friendship between Pavek (Marian Labuda), a blue-collar sensualist built of equal parts beer, sausage and leisure, and Otik (Janos Ban), a good-natured simpleton with a horsey grin. As the story progresses, we learn that a citified big shot fancies Otik's house as a country retreat -- he uses the power of the state to achieve his end, bribing Otik's superiors with favors and getting Otik transferred to Prague.

The story sets up the movie's central conflict -- how small-town virtues are threatened by modern ways -- in an obvious way. On the other hand, director Jiri Menzel and screen writer Zdenek Sverak actually seem to believe in those virtues, and the movie is saved by their sincerity. The humor, appropriately, is drawn from the physical gags of hick humor -- when you see Otik, mesmerized by a girl's bottom, wave Pavek's truck into a fence post, you might be watching a rerun of "Hee Haw."

Which isn't to say it seems stale, exactly. If the gags, and the heroes' Laurel and Hardy relationship, are as old as the silent era (or older), the transliteration to Czech adds at least a whiff of freshness. While Ban is studied and actorish as the half-wit, drawing on mime to build his character (is there anything more tiresome than mime?), Labuda brings a bumptious energy, and a sensitivity, to Pavek. And there's a marvelously cranky performance by Rudolf Hrusinsky as Skruzny, the absent-minded village doctor who benignly prescribes for every ailment, "Hands off."

But if "My Sweet Little Village" has its moments, you keep wishing that the film were about something more than how wonderful bucolic life is. And the filmmakers don't really use the contrast between small towns and big cities to generate satire of either, as Frank Capra used to do -- in fact, they never put the city and country into direct dramatic conflict at all. It's fine for a movie to be charming. But part of being charming, after all, is not trying so hard.

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