In this short program Film programmes of Tuškanac cinema, we show three digitally remastered masterpieces of Czech cinema made in 1966 – exactly half a century ago

„Czech Film Miracle“ After Half a Century

Already at the time between the two WW, Czech films were at the top of European film production. After problems with the rigid communist politicians and their complete takeover in 1948, in the 1960s Czech filmmakers, among whom ether were many old masters as well as young debutants, managed to successfully bypass the ideological traps. The liberalization of the regime that became more and more known as “socialism with a human character” was to their advantage. That is why the 1960’s (until the intervention of the Soviet Union and the forces of the Warsaw Pact in 1968) were the golden age of the national cinematography that was one of the leading ones in Europe. The culmination took place in the middle of that remarkable decade, and in this short programs we show three digitally restored maters pieces made in 1966 – before exactly half a century. 

Besides being some of the most successful works from the Czech cinema history of that period, these films are also great examples of the three dominant tendencies. When our film fans think of Czech films they first remember works Miloš Forman, Ivan Passer and probably firstly Jiři Menzel. Their films do not always have a firm dramatic framework and their storyline sometimes occurs from a mosaic integration of sequences that in precise realistic details structure scenes in which from the contrast of seriousness and the protagonists’ adequate behaviors comical situations arise. And thus occurs one of the most characteristic properties of Czech films – presentation of serious topics and problems in a humorous way.

Since his early career, Menzel (born in 1938) toyed masterfully with such procedures. However, in 1962, after graduating from one of the world’s best film academies (FAMU in Prague) he first got a job in a theatre, for which he continued to work for throughout his career. In Croatia, he directed Hamlet (1982) at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival as well as The Imaginary Invalid (1999), which was staged several times in Dubrovnik and Zagreb. He started to direct films in 1965, and his feature film debut Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky, 1966) based on Bohuslav Hrabal’s novel won an Oscar as best foreign film. Surprisingly mature and minutely polished directing solutions, outstanding feeling for rhythm and recreation of atmosphere of past times as well as wonderful work with actors in shaping their roles, enabled Menzel to immediately establish himself as one of the leading authors of the so-called golden age of Czech film. It is an exquisite comedy about troubles of a young man who starts working at a village train station in the last days of WW II and growing power of the resistance movement. Our hero, as well as other characters, are much more concerned with their love problems than war events. This contrast of everyday life and historical events, enable Menzel to create wondrous humor that reaches some stellar moments.

In those tumultuous times, both in the world of film as well as politics, Věra Chytilová (1929 – 2014) was the most important author who introduced experimental procedures in full-length films. Already in her graduation medium-length film The Ceiling (1962) about male exploitation of female models (and she worked as a model before her studies of film directing) it was obvious what the main characteristics of her opus would be – repulsion towards the consumer society, tendency towards feminism and combining of elements of cinéma vérité and radical innovation. Her biggest success characterized by the same style and worldview was the film Daisies (Sedmikrásky, l966) in which the abundance of film expression serves the creation of a complex structure of layered meanings in which the storyline becomes less important and the focus is on anarchistic and feminist attitudes. The protagonists of the film break all social norms and do not care whether their behavior will affects people from their surroundings; they provoke, steal and offend according to their mantra “If the world destroy everything, let us destroy everything too.” In an original manner, Chytilova takes a look at topics that were at the time in the center of attention (ethical relativism, cynicism, violence) from an unusual viewpoint, which puts her work on the border of burlesque that may entertain the viewers with the fireworks of visual effects and metaphors but that at the same time impressively expresses the author’s worldview based on an unusual combination of elements of liberalism, anarchism and feminism. In the time of rigid communism after the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, the director was unable to work on new projects and for many years she could not work on projects that completely express her worldviews and differ from the norms of the mainstream.

The most important author of uncompromising socially critical films from that exquisite period of Czech film history was Evald Schorm (193-1988). He also began his film career adopting the procedures of the cinéma vérité but he used them to emphasize reality, which was evident in his early documentaries done during his studies. His first feature film Courage for Every day (Každý den odvahu, 1964) about a devoted Communist who cannot come to terms with the deviations of the social practice of that time, showed his consistency in the analysis of the society in the sense that realism was to him always more important that any directing effects. Thus, many of his colleagues as well as critics regard him as the “conscience” of the Czech new wave. Return of the Prodigal Son (Návrat ztraceného syna, 1966) about a young architect who attempts suicide is an impressive portrayal of the ruin of ideals that shows Schorm’s concentration on philosophical, existential and moral issues. This made him highly suspicious in the eyes of the ruling regime and his last two films were banned while he was forbidden to direct for two decades soon after the Soviet intervention. After that he managed to direct only one film that had its premiere after his death. Nevertheless, he was allowed to direct for television and in theaters so he even directed one play in Croatia; in 1983, he directed his own adaptation of Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky in the Zagreb theatre Trešnja. (Tomislav Kurelec)