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Life, Rewound

by Rico Gagliano

Czech filmmaker Oldřich Lipský’s 1967 black comedy Happy End is the story of a criminal’s life, shown in reverse. Literally: the film begins with his severed head leaping out of a guillotine basket and back onto his body. Then he walks from the execution platform, backwards, into prison. And so on. Meanwhile, he cheerfully narrates the action as though it were all happening in standard, chronological order: his backwards beheading is his ‘birth’. He spends a happy ‘childhood’ in prison, until he’s sentenced by a judge to marry a woman. He first encounters her as a dismembered body, which he must ‘reassemble’ into a whole person, using a magical butcher’s knife—a murder reimagined as an act of creation. Happy End works as an absurd farce. Or a clever piece of experimental cinema. Or a creepy glimpse at the ultimate self-delusion: a villain rewinding his life, to cast himself as a hapless hero.

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