Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, then sprinkle in the eccentric flourishes of Wes Anderson, and you get a sense of the delirious pleasure that Ondřej Hudeček’s black comedy Peacock provides. Overflowing with creativity and confidence, the film offers an exhilarating and hilarious look at the early years of renowned 19th-century Czech playwright Ladislav Stroupežnický. Theatrical in its design – at times feeling as if it scenes were ripped right off the stage, which is fitting considering its subject matter – but cinematic in it visual tone, Peacock is far from your traditional period piece. In fact it keeps its tongue planted firmly in its cheek for large portions of its touted three act structure, which actually includes both a prologue and epilogue.
Noted for his mastery of critical realism, Peacock implies that Stroupežnický (Julius Feldmeier) displayed greatness from a young age. His unruly ways as a boy were not the sign of an untamed child, though placing a dead rabbit outside a church on a makeshift crucifix would suggest otherwise, but rather a genius constructing dramatic scenes within the chaos he caused. Hudeček’s takes delight in the fact that Stroupežnický was defiant in the face of any sort of organized authority.
The playful spirit of the film really hits its stride when focusing on Stroupežnický’s post-war time at a monastery and his subsequent relationship with Jan Aleš (Cyril Dobrý), a childhood friend whom a title card introduces as “a poet and a great lover.” The tragic nature of the relationship, which supposedly gave the playwright the experience of being the “last romantic hero,” provides Peacock with some of its most inspired moments. One brilliant sequence finds Hudeček simply shows an excerpt of the script, rather than have his actors dramatize the scene, to highlight Stroupežnický’s displeasure with Aleš’ romantic relationship with a female. The scene not only sets up one of the defining moments of his life, but also allows for Hudeček to push the envelope further in his depiction of Stroupežnický’s suicide attempt, and the seemingly heavenly intervention that occurs.
Embracing a wonderfully unconventional approach, Ondřej Hudeček cements himself as a talent who demands our attention. Regardless of whether he is incorporating a bombastic classic score, showcasing visually stunning picturesque landscapes, or bringing a unique brand of eccentricity to genre tropes, Peacock plays like a calling card for Hudeček’s abilities. Bold, imaginative, and devilishly entertaining, one can only hope that Ondřej Hudeček brings this same energy to the realm of feature films soon.
Screens as part of Shorts Cuts Programme 9:
Tuesday, September 15, 10:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, September 20, 12:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.