Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Good Soldier Švejk discussion: Good Soldier Schweik 2—Beg to Report, Sir (1957/8 movie)

Movie poster for Beg to Report, Sir
Picture source

I am still working out where I want this blog to go, but one thing I wanted to do from the beginning was view/consume/compare a book to versions of it in other media, particularly film. I think I’ve made it clear I don’t have a problem with variations from the text as long as the spirit of the original is maintained and it adds something that faithful replication would not accomplish. I say all this as a lead-in to this brief review because I enjoyed this film much more than the first film even though it deviates from the text, substantially at times. This Czech film (1957 or 1958 depending on the site you visit) covers the last 2 ½ books of Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk. I think part of my additional warming to this ‘episode’ is because Rudolf Hrusinsky has really grown on me as Švejk (I’ll try and maintain consistency with the book).

Švejk tells more anecdotes in this movie, the reduction of which was one of the shortfalls in the first movie. Švejk is Švejk because (in some part) of these anecdotes. As I mentioned in the first movie’s post, these anecdotes provide a cumulative effect in portraying the breadth of Švejk’s mind, both in the volume of his memory and how his mind connects disparate events while also demonstrating the (apparent) shallowness of it. Sometimes the anecdotes have deeper meaning, making fun of their targets, while other times they simply demonstrate the wonder that is Švejk.

The storyline for these 2 ½ books travels outside of Prague which allows much more freedom for the filmmakers to choose what scenes to highlight. We have Švejk’s Anabasis, his arrest as a Russian (twice), his reunion with his regiment, and the approach toward the front. To offset some of this freedom from the text, the filmmakers must have felt constrained by Josef Lada’s illustrations. Characters in the movie look exactly like those drawings, which provide continuity between the book and the movie. Baloun and Lieutenant Dub, especially, are faithful reproductions from the book's sketches and I can’t imagine them as looking any different now.

The major drawback to this film is that it is covering 2 ½ books of Hašek’s work. The first film only covered one book and still had to excise parts. I know I’m being greedy by saying that there was enough material for another film. But when you see parts not included like Lukáš’ love letter (that goes horribly awry by Švejk’s inept delivery) or the cipher fiasco, it’s easy to wish this had been extended through an additional film. To those unfamiliar with the book, this drawback is probably irrelevant.

Does the film capture the overall spirit of the book? I think the answer is an unequivocal yes. The hardest part to decide may be how do you end the movie when the book ends mid-scene? Having the outhouse Lieutenant Dub occupies shelled (he comes out unscathed), felt like a good ending. The final scene of Švejk lighting his pipe while shells burst around him captures the spirit of the book in one brief scene. The characters are faithful to the source and consistently well played.

The harder question to answer for me is does the movie stand by itself? In this case, the concern is twofold—do you need to know the book and/or do you need to see the first film to fully enjoy the film? As with the first film, readers of the book will enjoy this movie more than those not familiar with it. Fortunately the subtitles seemed to be easier to read in this movie than the first. While viewing the previous film isn’t necessary to enjoy this one, I think seeing it first would be helpful to fully understand the world of Švejk.

I am still amazed at the number of film versions made about Švejk, but I’m really glad these two were made and I was able to watch them.

Cover of U.S. DVD version

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