OK, deep breath for the title alone. Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (or Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem in the original Czech) is also conceptually the sort of film that requires a super-oxygenation session before diving in.
It’s made in the 1970s but set in the 1990s, where time travel is a leisure activity that’s part of everyday life. Here, a bunch of aged Nazis who have been kept relatively youthful by the regular swallowing of anti-ageing pills plan to return to 1944, taking with them a hydrogen bomb that will allow Hitler to win the war.
To that concept another one. Of two twin brothers being mistaken for each other. The pilot who was going to do the transporting of the Nazis dies on the morning of the flight – he chokes on a croissant. With the womanising layabout Karel now out of the picture, his upright and decent twin Jan (both men are played by Petr Kostka) decides to take his place, possibly because he’s sick of his own life, possibly because Karel’s fiancée Eva (Zuzana Ondrouchová) is hot, possibly because he suspects deep down that Karel was a Nazi and is doing the right thing, who knows?
Handily, too handily really, it turns out that Jan was one of the designers of the time-travelling space ship Karel was about to captain and so he knows how to pilot it too. And before you can say “Sieg Heil” Jan is taking this cabal of onetime Nazis back into the past – plus a couple of American tourists accidentally included on the itinerary – where Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Himmler and the gang should be plotting their next move in the fight against the USSR.
Except Jan hasn’t taken the guys back to 1944, when Germany stood on the brink of defeat, but to 1941, when the Nazis were at the gates of Moscow and victory seemed theirs for the taking. What does the arrival of a strange gaggle of guys bearing a mystery weapon say in these altogether different circumstances?
Knockabout comedy with time travel and Nazis is what Jindrich Polák’s movie offers and delivers. There are time-travel paradoxes and there is some playing about with known historical events, plus lots of fun incidental detail – like all the various “excursions” time-travelling tourists in the 1990s can book, to the Battle of Waterloo, the time of the dinosaurs, or walking in the footsteps of Julius Caesar.
Polák gets a long way on these high concepts and what looks like a modest budget. Careful location shooting in Prague in the “present” (the 1970s standing in for the 1990s) suggests, subtly, that Communism is no longer what it was – the world looks modern, prosperous – while the space/time-travel segments are mocked up with Thunderbirds-style special effects (models, slo-mo). Usefully, quite a lot of the action takes place in Hitler’s concrete bunker, where all that’s needed is a few uniforms and some actors who look passably like Nazi high command to make it all work. And indeed they do, with František Vicena a megalomaniac Hitler who’s relatively benign (compared to Bruno Ganz in Downfall, say), Horst Giese as Goebbels, Jan Sedlisky as Himmler and Karel Hábl particularly well cast as Göring, resplendently camp in a powder-blue field marshal’s uniform and baton.
Towards the end, as Jan returns to the present, then goes back to the past again, returning repeatedly to have yet another go at setting events in order, things become multiversal, as no one in 1977 would have said. Jan fixes stuff, in a way that’s politically satisfying if slightly queasy emotionally. Suddenly, as if from almost nowhere, Soviet Man – that selfless ever-improving individual arrives on the scene, or Jan is revealed as being its proud embodiment. It is strangely satisfying, a comic coda that’s unsettling in all the right ways, allowing Polák’s film to go out on a high that’s also a big question mark.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023