Into The Woods: ‘Coach To Vienna’ Reviewed

From Sondheim musicals to Robert Frost poems, there’s always been a supernatural quality to the woods. Throw in some fog and Jan Novák’s organ music, and you start to move towards the realm of gothic horror.

Karel Kachyňa’s Coach to Vienna takes place entirely in the woods. The opening credits set the scene and while there’s a lot of space between trees, the lack of cover only makes it more disconcerting when sounds, like gunshots, can be heard, and the shooters are nowhere to be seen. All of the trees look identical, too, with the result being the forest starts to feel endless, with no distinguishing landmarks – just seclusion.

Having established the woods, the film then moves on to plot. Unlike the more famous crawl text that opens every Star Wars movie, the crawl text in Coach to Vienna has a different effect. Instead of introducing an epic adventure, the story being told is brutal and dark. At the same time, it’s a tale as old as time – revenge.

Three people enter the woods alone. One is a woman (Iva Janžurová) whose husband was recently killed by the Nazis. The other two are soldiers who weren’t there when he was killed but are making her transport them to the Austrian border.

Second Run’s Blu-Ray comes with a commentary by Projection Booth host, Mike White, and frequent podcast guests, Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger. They cover a lot of territory, including the fact that Coach to Vienna often feels like a stage play, with its small cast and single location, but they also make you think about the choices that were made, like when Deighan wonders what the film would’ve been like without crawl text. It’s a hypothetical question, but one that makes you realize how much the film depends on that text to explain why the woman wants her ax so badly.

Author, Jonathan Owen, further adds to the conversation with his remarkable booklet essay. Besides providing some background on Kachyňa and screenwriter, Jan Procházka, who were frequent collaborators, Owen points out that that the original plan was to film those scenes of the woman’s husband. In other words, instead of crawl text, the film would’ve shown (instead of told) what happened to him.

The difference might seem small, but great bonus features help you recognize why these details matter, and in Coach to Vienna, those scenes would’ve meant leaving the woods and extending the story beyond its three-person cast. It’s those restrictions that give the film its intensity but they’re also why the film’s ending sticks out, and not in a good way (though not for the reasons it was initially controversial either). Owen goes over those reasons in his essay, but by fading to black and introducing a time jump, as well as new characters, Kachyňa breaks from the film’s stylistic choices, and doesn’t see them through to the end.

Other than that, the only disappointing bonus feature on Second Run’s Blu-Ray is the graduate film Kachyňa co-directed with Vojtĕch Jasný. A second feature length film is a generous extra (and it’s not Second Run’s fault that it drags), but it’s way too dependent on voiceover and doesn’t live up to Couch to Vienna.

Coach to Vienna is available on all-region Blu-Ray from Second Run.

From Sondheim musicals to Robert Frost poems, there’s always been a supernatural quality to the woods. Throw in some fogCOMICONRead More

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