Happy End (Šťastný konec) – Second Run

uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/happy-end-Second-Run-Blu-ray.jpg">Director: Oldrich Lipský
Screenplay: Oldrich Lipský, Milos Macourek
Starring: Vladimír Mensík, Jaroslava Obermaierová, Josef Abrhám, Bohus Záhorský, Stella Zázvorková
Country: Czechoslovakia
Running Time: 73 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15

Oldrich Lipský started out working in satirical theatre before directing films around the start of the 1950s. He developed quite a name for himself in Czechoslovakia for making some of the country’s most successful and beloved comedies. His biggest hit was Lemonade Joe (a.k.a. Limonádový Joe aneb Konská opera), released in 1964, which paved the way for Lipský to make numerous popular comedy and fantasy films before his death in 1986.

On Happy End (a.k.a. Šťastný konec), released in 1967, Lipský was joined by another celebrated Czech contributor, the writer Milos Macourek. After assisting Lipský with the script for The Man From the First Century and working largely on shorts earlier in the 60s, Happy End helped boost Macourek’s career as a writer of feature films. He went on to be somewhat of a Czech institution, putting his boundless imagination and wit towards a vast array of scripts, poems and stories. Not only did he make another five films with Lipský after Happy End, he also enjoyed a fruitful relationship with another successful director of wild Czech comedies, Václav Vorlícek, as well as penning many popular cartoons for Adolf Born.

I’m always interested in the Czech films released by Second Run but Happy End sounded particularly intriguing, given its concept. So I snapped up the chance to review their forthcoming Blu-ray.


Happy End is a darkly comedic tale told in a wonderfully unique way. The film starts at what would normally be the end, with the execution of a butcher named Bedřich Frydrych (Vladimír Mensík). However, the story then rewinds, showing us Bedřich’s life in reverse, narrated as though this is the normal direction in which events play out.

This unorthodox approach sheds light on the events that led him to the guillotine. We see him released from prison, presented as a child entering school, then he soon gets ‘married’, assembling his wife from dismembered parts (he’d chopped her up after she was caught cheating on him) and so on, leading back to his death/birth. To describe much more would spoil the fun.

Czech critics writing about Happy End on its release weren’t too kind. They saw it as an overly complicated experiment or an “intolerably drawn-out” joke. Whilst I wouldn’t disagree that the film is, in essence, entirely built around playing with its high concept, that trick is so well executed and hilariously funny that I didn’t care and embraced it fully, as soon as I tuned into its bizarre style (which takes a few minutes).


I haven’t laughed as hard at a film for a long time as I did whilst watching Happy End. It may not have the social critique or political underpinnings of the Czech New Wave titles released around the same time (which is likely why snooty critics were less enamoured by it) but, in my mind, Happy End is every bit as worthy of praise as contemporaries like The Fireman’s Ball and Closely Observed Trains.

It’s not the first film to play with reverse chronology (or the last) but one of the most sophisticated, innovative and successful. Frydrych’s voiceover guides us through the bizarre backwards story. He makes warped sense out of what we’re watching, leading to hilarious takes on life in reverse, as described earlier.

Though the voiceover had me roaring with laughter, much of the comedy, and the film’s most ingenious touch, comes from the way dialogue is used. Rather than having characters literally speak backwards, which would match their actions but would be impossible to decipher, each short line is delivered in reverse order. This technique is frequently used to great comic effect. For instance, at Frydrych’s trial, he’s asked, “who put the corpse in your suitcase?”, to which his reply seems to be, “the judge” (when in standard chronology, that was the answer to a previous question). It must have been an absolute nightmare to write in this way but it is done perfectly, with absurd wit throughout.


The pace of the film is furious. The only moment I felt it put on the brakes was when it spent a little too long watching the butcher’s wife and her lover eat in reverse. It was suitably weird and disgustingly amusing at first but soon felt drawn out. The actors certainly ate a lot of cake during that shoot!

Due to the fast pace and head-spinning nature of the concept, it’s quite an exhausting watch but thankfully the running time is a lean 73 minutes, so you don’t get time to tire of it.

Also helping prevent Happy End from getting too complicated to follow is the fact the story that has been rewound is a well-trodden, soapy melodrama about adultery. Given its new twist, the tale becomes a raucous farce though and the film is wonderfully macabre, whilst charmingly narrated and backed by a classically comedic score. It’s quite grizzly in places too, particularly in the ‘re-assembling’ of Frydrych’s wife. Though, when played in reverse, the dismemberment is hilarious rather than disturbing.


On top of everything, it’s a technical marvel. Playing material back in reverse is nothing new, not even then, but it’s thought through so carefully and executed so brilliantly here. Lipský used a mixture of having the cast speak normally whilst performing movements in reverse, alongside standard movements and reverse dialogue to be switched over in post-production. It must have been difficult to shoot but the team’s diligence pays off in spades. There are also some ambitious shots, such as a dining scene where the camera repeatedly spins around to point at the next speaker around the table during a conversation.

Before I tie things up, I must mention the cast. Mensik is a joy to watch as the film’s charming (or psychopathic, depending on how you look at it), lead. Jaroslava Obermaierová is fun in the wife role and Josef Abrhám is wonderfully slimy as her lover, Birdie.

Though Happy End might be viewed as a one-trick-pony, Lipský and Macourek milk the concept for as much surreal, anarchic comedy as possible, leading to an uproariously funny film. Short, sharp and inventive, it’s an absolute treat. We need more Lipský and Macourek on Blu-ray please.


Happy End is out on 25th March on region-free Blu-ray, released by Second Run. The transfer is excellent, with a clean, detailed image and fairly wide tonal range. I had no problems with the audio either.


– Happy End (Šťastný konec, 1967) presented from an HD transfer from the new 4K restoration created by the Czech National Film Archive.
– Cerise Howard on ‘Happy End’: a video essay by film critic and Program Director of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.
– A Projection Booth audio commentary with Mike White, Kat Ellinger and Ben Buckingham.
– Booklet featuring a substantial new essay by writer and commentator Jonathan Owen.
– New and improved English subtitle translation.
– World premiere on Blu-ray.
– Region Free (A/B/C) Blu-ray

The Projection Booth commentary sees the team have a blast discussing how much fun the film is. They later move on to talk about the careers of some of the key personnel and other related films.

Cerise Howard opens her piece by talking about how she first came across the film. Then she gives a little context to its making before digging into some analysis. It’s a valuable essay.

The booklet is excellent too. In it, Jonathan Owen provides some illuminating background on Happy End and its makers before delving into some interesting readings of the film.

I can’t recommend Happy End enough. It’s weird, wonderful and an absolute riot. Anyone with a taste for the unusual and absurd should pick this up as soon as possible.


Happy End (Šťastný konec) - Second Run
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