A Czech comedy-fantasy from the 1970s that may not be all that funny,
but the film’s visual brilliance and manic invention make for an
extremely entertaining viewing experience.
1972’s GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK (DIVKA NA KOSTETI) isn’t as
well known as other Czech fantasy films of the period (like
BEAUTY AND THE
BEAST), but it was a success, and remains one of the key
films of its director Vaclav Vorlicek (of THREE WISHES FOR CINDERELLA
and WHO WANTS TO KILL JESSIE?). A belated Vorlicek helmed sequel, LITTLE
WITCH ON A BROOMSTICK (SAXANA A LEXIKON KOUZEL), appeared in 2011, but
wasn’t nearly as successful financially or artistically.
Far better received was THE GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK’S
wonderful psychedelic jazz soundtrack by Angelo Michajlov, which was
released on CD in 2010 by the UK label Finder Keepers (alongside equally
vital Czech film soundtracks like VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS and
THE CREMATOR). That soundtrack, I might add, includes the single “Saxana,”
crooned by the film’s star Petra Cernocka, which was a massive hit in
the film’s native land.
Saxana is a young witch in training at a shape-shifting
school. After failing to transform herself into a raven one day Saxana
is forced to stay after school for--300 years! She becomes determined to
rebel by entering the “world of humans,” and does so in the form of an
owl. As such she’s captured and taken home by an middle-aged man as a
gift for his teenage son Johnny.
Saxana attends school with Johnny the following day,
and inadvertently falls into the orbit of an especially mischievous
student. Under the nefarious influence of the student and his pals,
Saxana gives an instructor rodent teeth and transforms the rest of the
faculty into rabbits. When Saxana tries to free herself from the boys’
clutches they lock her in a closet, but she escapes by flying out the
window on a broomstick.
She ends up crashing her broom into the home of the
rodent-toothed teacher. The two ladies forge an alliance, with the
teacher learning Saxana’s secrets and taking the rabbit teachers to a
local petting zoo.
As for Johnny, he’s transformed into an action figure
that has its head separated from its body--so when Saxana changes him
back to human form his head and body remain separated. Two more people
are transformed into cows, the gang of teen miscreants get rabbit ears,
and Saxana’s fellow shape-shifters come after her. And so on.
This film contains all the visual flair of Czech
fantasy classics like MORGIANA and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but in place of
those films’ brooding socio-political overtones THE GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK
is unerringly spunky and light-hearted. Director Vaclav Vorlicek
displays an unflagging energy, bolstered by a wealth of imaginative
sight gags. The many depictions of people transforming into various
animals are quite memorable, as are the simple but ingenious
arm-extension gags (in which Saxana sticks an arm under a table and it
stretches across the room).
The “humor,” as you might guess, hasn’t dated well, and
nor does it “transcend borders” (as some have mistakenly claimed). What
does register is the high-spirited quasi-gothic aura, and also Petra
Cernocka in the title role. A popular singer making her film acting
debut, Cernocka exudes wide-eyed innocence and a PG rated sexiness--an
effect magnified by her eye-catching (to say the least) outfit,
consisting of a skimpy black robe that’s turned into a miniskirt in the
THE GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK (DIVKA NA KOSTETI)
Filmove Studio Barrandov
Director: Vaclav Vorlicek
Screenplay: Hermina Frankova, Milos Macourek, Vaclav Vorlicek
Cinematography: Valdimir Novotny
Editing: Miroslav Hajek
Cast: Petra Cernocka, Jan Hrusinsky, Jan Kraus, Vlastimil Zavrel, Michal
Hejny, Jaromir Spal, Vlastimil Hasek, Vladimir Mensik, Frantisek
Filipovsky, Zdenek Dite, Josef Blaha