Archive for the 'Czech Republic' Category


1966, colour/black & white (assorted tints), 73 mins

  • Director: Věra Chytilová
  • Screenplay: Ester Krumbachová, Věra Chytilová
  • Original idea: Věra Chytilová, Pavel Juráček
  • Photography: Jaroslav Kučera
  • Art Design: Ester Krumbachová, Jaroslav Kučera
  • Set Design: Karel Lier
  • Costume Design: Ester Krumbachová
  • Music: Jiří Sust, Jiří Šlitr
  • Editing: Miroslav Hájek
  • Sound: Ladislav Hausdorf
  • Cast: Jitka Cerhová (Marie I), Ivana Karbanová (Marie II), Julius Albert (Old man with a beard), Jan Klusák (Man with butterfly collection), Marie Česková (Woman in toilet)
  • Production Company: Barrandov Film Studios)

I was planning to post a full-scale review of Second Run’s new DVD of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies/Sedmikrásky by today, but workload and a commission to write an extended piece on it for Sight & Sound conspired against me.

But what I’ll certainly say is that this has a very fair claim to being Second Run’s most wholly satisfying release to date. The transfer would appear to be from the same master as the the Czech and Spanish editions discussed here, but it’s the only one from that source with English subtitles. Going from their comments, it looks as though this is closer to the Spanish edition, in that it doesn’t appear to have the glitches that the Czech one sports as a by-product of overzealous digital post-processing, but I thought I’d post matching framegrabs so you can make up your own mind:

(I had to reduce the grabs by 50% to get them to fit the Filmjournal template, but you can find the full-size originals here.)

Certainly, it’s one of Second Run’s best transfers of a 1960s Czech film - right up there with Intimate Lighting/Intimní osvětlení and The Party and the Guests/O slavnosti a hostech - and miles ahead of the Facets Daisies, which I think is the only competing edition with English subtitles.

In common with most Second Run releases, there are just two extras (besides a new trailer cut for this release), but they’re both impressively meaty and complement each other very well. I recommend reading Peter Hames’ booklet essay first, as it provides useful biographical and contextual information about Chytilová’s career, which will fill in gaps left by Jasmina Blaževič’s Journey/Cesta, a 53-minute portrait of Chytilová that concentrates more on creating a witty, fragmented (very Chytilovan!) study of the woman herself than on providing much factual information. But it’s an excellent extra that’s far more ambitious than Second Run’s usual straight-to-camera interviews.

Posted on 1st June 2009
Under: Reviews, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic | 3 Comments »

The East End Film Festival

The 2009 East End Film Festival launches tomorrow - in the words of the organisers:

The East End Film Festival showcases hot new talent and homegrown films alongside larger independent releases and special events, informing and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers and audiences from across London and beyond, and raising the profile of this vibrant and diverse area - London’s East End.

Traditionally, it’s had a strong Eastern European presence, and 2009 is no different - perusing the programme I note that they’re showing the following:

Friday 24, 8pm: The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Светът е голям и спасение дебне отвсякъде, d. Stephan Komandarev, Bulgaria, 2008) - I saw this in Sarajevo and remember enjoying it, though the framing story (a champion backgammon player travels to Germany to collect his teenage grandson from hospital following a car crash that killed his parents) is far less compelling than the flashbacks in which parents and son leave communist Bulgaria for life in an internment camp in Italy. Unsubtitled Bulgarian trailer here.

Saturday 25, 7pm: Iska’s Journey (Iszka utazása, d. Csaba Bollók, Hungary, 2007) and Everybody Dies But Me (Все умрут, а я останусь, d. Valeriya Gai Germanika, Russia, 2008) - I haven’t seen the Russian film, but this double bill is worth it for the stunning if relentlessly grim Hungarian title, which I reviewed here

Saturday 25, 7.30pm: Złoty środek (d. Olaf Lubaszenko, Poland, 2009) - this Polish film is so new (it opened there on 20 March) that it doesn’t even seem to have an English title yet. The director is best known as an actor (most famously the male lead in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Love/Krótki film o miłości, 1988), but he’s also been directing for the last decade or so. Sadly, I can’t attend this screening, but I suspect my good friend and occasional writing partner Kamila Kuc will be relieved, as she’s hosting the Q&A and I won’t be able to heckle it. Unsubtitled Polish trailer here.

Monday 27, 7pm: I Was Here (Mina olin siin, d. René Vilbre, Estonia, 2008) - a second feature that made a splash at the Karlovy Vary film festival last year. Here’s the (unsubtitled) trailer.

Tueday 28, 6.30pm: Zift (d. Javor Gardev, Bulgaria, 2008) and Rene (d. Helena Třeštíková, Czech Republic, 2008). I haven’t seen the first of these, but I can certainly recommend the second - a documentary study of a charming but incorrigible recidivist from teenage criminal in the dying days of the Communist era to roughly twenty years later, and the film was shot over the same period. Rene spends much of the time in prison, great political upheavals largely passing him by, and although he occasionally turns his mind to something productive (such as writing), his lengthy self-destructive streak keeps catching up with him, starting with his decision to tattoo “fuck of people” [sic] across his throat.

Tuesday 28, 9pm: Elevator (d. George Dorobantu, Romania, 2008) - the mainland British premiere of another Romanian New Wave discovery, a practically zero-budget two-hander that seems to be well thought of.

Wednesday 29, 6.30pm: Homecoming (Heimkehrer, d. Jovan Arsenic, Serbia, 2004) and Revanche (d. Götz Spielmann, Austria, 2008) - haven’t seen either of these, but they both look intriguing, and the double-bill package is equally attractive.

Posted on 22nd April 2009
Under: Festivals, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Serbia, Austria | No Comments »

Darkness visible?

This looks promising - Juraj Herz, director of the supremely culty The Cremator (Spalovač Mrtvol, 1968), is finally returning to his favourite genre with a new horror film called Darkness (Tma), scheduled for completion next year.

Here’s a short interview that Herz gave to Czech newspaper Mláda fronta DNES, though he doesn’t seem to be giving much away (sadly, my neanderthal Czech isn’t up to a translation). Anyway, let’s hope it’s better than the last horror film that I saw with that title - my Sight & Sound review isn’t online, but let’s just say I wasn’t keen.

Posted on 1st November 2008
Under: Juraj Herz, Czech Republic | No Comments »

Short Animated World

I’ve just discovered the Short Animated World blog, dedicated to chronicling all 100 entries on the recent Annecy Film Festival/Studio Magazine/Variety poll of thirty animation historians to establish the best animated films of all time. There’s no original critical material, but each entry offers links and - in most cases - a streaming copy of the actual film.

Unsurprisingly, central and eastern Europe animators loom large in the poll, notching up the following entries:

  • 3. Dimensions of Dialogue (Možnosti dialogu, d. Jan Švankmajer, 1982, Czechoslovakia)
  • 6. Tale of Tales (Сказка сказок, d. Yuri Norstein, 1979, USSR)
  • 18. Tango (d. Zbigniew Rybczyński, 1980, Poland)
  • 25. The Hand (Ruka, d. Jiří Trnka, 1965, Czechoslovakia) - Kinoblog review here
  • 31. The Cameraman’s Revenge (Месть кинематографического оператора, d. Władysław Starewicz, 1911, Russia)
  • 33. Hunger (La faim, d. Peter Földes, 1974, Canada)
  • 35. Satiemania (d. Zdenko Gašparović, 1978, Yugoslavia)
  • 44. Franz Kafka (d. Piotr Dumała, 1991, Poland)
  • 47. The Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood (Серый волк энд Красная шапочка, d. Garry Bardin, 1990, USSR)
  • 49. Hedgehog in the Fog (Ежик в тумане, d. Yuri Norstein, 1975, USSR)
  • 65. Monsieur Tête (L’horrible, bizarre et incroyable histoire de Monsieur Tête, d. Jan Lenica/Henri Gruel, 1959, France)
  • 68. Repete (d. Michaela Pavlátová, 1995, Czech Republic)
  • 69. Hen, His Wife (Его жена курица, d. Igor Kovaliyov, 1989, USSR)
  • 83. The Lion and the Song (Lev a písnička, d. Břetislav Pojar, 1959, Czechoslovakia)
  • 85. The Roll-Call (Apel, d. Ryszard Cekala, 1970, Poland)
  • 86. A (d. Jan Lenica, 1964, West Germany)
  • 88. Tuning the Instruments (Strojenie instrumentów, d. Jerzy Kucia, 2000, Poland)
  • 89. Le Pas (d. Piotr Kamler, 1974, France)
  • 95. Le Concert de M. et Mme. Kabal (d. Walerian Borowczyk, 1962, France)
  • 97. Hotel E (d. Priit Pärn, 1992, Estonia)
  • 98. Film Film Film (Фильм, фильм, фильм, d. Fyodor Khitruk, 1968, USSR)
  • 99. Les Jeux des Anges (d. Walerian Borowczyk, 1964, France)

Posted on 26th October 2008
Under: Animation, Jiří Trnka, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, Russia, Jan Švankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk, Jan Lenica, Czech Republic, Władysław Starewicz, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Priit Pärn, Piotr Kamler, Piotr Dumała, Jerzy Kucia, Ryszard Cekala, Břetislav Pojar, Igor Kovaliyov, Michaela Pavlátová, Yuri Norstein, Garry Bardin, Zdenko Gašparović, Peter Földes, Zbigniew Rybczyński | 2 Comments »

Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák in London

On the weekend of 7-9 November, London’s Riverside Studios Cinema (probably the most consistently supportive of all British venues when it comes to central and eastern European cinema) is hosting a season of ten films featuring one or both of the father-and-son team of Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák, who will also be appearing in person.

The full line-up is:

Friday 7 November
6.40pm - Daddy (Tatínek, d. Jan Svěrák, 2004)
8.30pm - Empties (Vratné lahve, d. Jan Svěrák, 2007)
(Empties has an introduction and Q&A by Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák)

Saturday 8 November
4pm - The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (Život a neobyčejná dobrodružství vojína Ivana Čonkina, d. Jiří Menzel, 1993)
6.05pm - The Elementary School (Obecná škola, d. Jan Svěrák, 1991)
8.05pm - Kolya (Kolja, d. Jan Svěrák, 1996)
(Kolya has an introduction and Q&A by Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák)

Sunday 9 November
2pm - Three Veterans (Tři veteráni, d. Oldřich Lipský, 1983)
4pm - My Sweet Little Village (Vesničko má středisková, d. Jiří Menzel, 1985)
5.50pm - The Oil Gobblers (Ropáci, d. Jan Svěrák, 1988) plus The Ride (Jízda, d. Jan Svěrák, 1994)
8.05pm - Dark Blue World (Tmavomodrý svět, d. Jan Svěrák, 2001)
(Dark Blue World has an introduction and Q&A by producer Eric Abraham)

The Riverside’s website is here, but their November programme hasn’t been published yet.

Posted on 20th October 2008
Under: Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Jan Svěrák | No Comments »

The Ghost of Munich

The Prague Post reports on a potentially intriguing film collaboration between two of the elder statesmen of Czech culture: playwright and former president Václav Havel and director Miloš Forman. Inspired by (as opposed to based on) the novel The Ghost of Munich by French journalist Georges-Marc Benamou, it’s an account of the British and French abandonment of what was then Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in September 1938.

If the project goes ahead, it won’t be the first example of a major Czech director exploring one of the darkest periods of his country’s history. While still in exile from communist Czechoslovakia, Jan Němec co-directed (with Otto Olejar) a lengthy documentary-cum-dramatised reconstruction, Peace In Our Time? for Britain’s Channel Four (broadcast on 8 September 1988), the casting of John Cleese as a fumbling, incompetent Neville Chamberlain making it a bitterly ironic comment on the man who notoriously described the place as “a faraway country of which we know little”. If the Havel/Forman project gets off the ground, it would make a terrific DVD extra.

Posted on 28th September 2008
Under: Jan Němec, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Miloš Forman | No Comments »

Polish Posters revisited

One of the first posts I ever made on this blog enthused about Polish posters (one of the most underrated authentically great art forms of the last century), so I’m delighted to see that Andrew Lindstrom’s design resource Well Medicated is hosting a superb online exhibition of fifty Polish film posters, plus the option to leave comments.

And I see some people have been taking advantage:

I don’t like any of them. (Osama)

These are pretty crap like. (xxxxxx)

i thought some of these were really good,but most of them were just disgusting (Atama)

i am on lsd currently and this shit makes sense (Sok)

I don’t find posters great or amazing. All of them are kid’s posters. Poor stuff. (Virte)

pretty depressing lot. some frustrated soul working on them. didnt like any. morose and not really communicative. (abcd)

More detailed technical criticism:

Are u ppl blind? These are garbage. It looks like they were drawn with pencil crayons and markers by a ten year old. We live in a world of photoshop now. These poters look to be drawn in Microsoft Paint. Get with the times man. I like vintage design just as much as anyone else but these are just terrible excuses for art. Very lazy designs here that seem to be whipped up in minutes by whoever created them. If this is what it looks like throughout Poland, then they are missing out big time. (Bukator)

And, the most heartfelt:

Many of you may call these “art”, but maybe you are just giving them too much credit because they are old. To me, they just remind me of all those dirty, boring, drab things from decades ago. Like watching TV shows from the early 90’s. I love good art, and don’t get me wrong. The modern hollywood posters are not that great, but at least they have some vibrant color! Nowadays, all that these posters would do is depress people and make them think that the films were boring! I’m surprised that so many people like these. It just gives me a sinking feeling in my gut. Uggh! (jkillah1)

…though a rather more constructive comment links to a similar collection of Czech posters.

(Hat tip)

Posted on 20th September 2008
Under: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic | 3 Comments »

Irony Man

It’s dated yesterday, but I don’t think it ever made it into the printed version of the Guardian, which is why I didn’t spot it until now. Anyway, here’s an excellent interview with Jiří Menzel as his latest film I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2007) finally gets a belated and brief British cinema run.

Posted on 10th May 2008
Under: Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Jiří Menzel | No Comments »

Catching up

Apologies for the apparent lack of activity over the past few days: I’ve spent them preparing the various multimedia elements of my talk Andrzej Wajda: An Introduction, which I’ll be presenting at the BFI Southbank tonight at 6.15 - and, as ever, these things take much longer than expected!

Polish Radio recently interviewed me about the Wajda season, though they only ended up using a short snippet on Katyn. The recording is here - I’m the one without a Polish accent.

Once the immediate Wajda pressure is off, I’ll post more pieces on individual films, and I’ll also be looking at Jiří Menzel’s collaborations with the novelist Bohumil Hrabal as the latest, I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2007), finally gets a (minuscule) British cinema release.

And I can also thoroughly recommend the Imperial War Museum’s ongoing season of Polish films, which I mentioned a few days ago - I paid a visit myself on Friday and saw Krzysztof Zanussi’s In Full Gallop (Cwał, 1995) on the big screen for absolutely nothing. Sadly, the number of people in the auditorium didn’t even stretch to double figures, which just goes to show how little value people place on things when you give them away.

Posted on 6th May 2008
Under: Poland, Andrzej Wajda, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Jiří Menzel | 4 Comments »

Jiří Menzel in London

Last Sunday saw the Barbican’s London premiere (and only the second UK screening) of Jiří Menzel’s I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2007), his sixth adaptation of the work of the great Czech writer and eccentric Bohumil Hrabal following his contribution to the anthology Pearls of the Deep (Perličky na dně, 1965) and the features Closely Observed Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky, 1966), Larks on a String (Skřivánci na niti, 1969), Cutting It Short (Postřižiny, 1980) and Snowdrop Festival (Slavnosti sněženek, 1983).

What made the event particularly memorable (aside from the joy of being able to see the film in a packed cinema with an audience that was clearly heavily Czech, judging from the way they laughed at the spoken dialogue rather than the subtitles) was that Menzel himself was there to introduce it and discuss both it and his career after the screening with the critic and Czech cinema expert Peter Hames. Sadly, the curse of the Sunday evening rail timetable meant that I had to leave before the end, but here’s a précis of what I managed to catch.

Hames opened the discussion with a brief summary of Menzel’s career, which the director upstaged by wiggling his eyebrows at the audience, thus setting a gleefully irreverent tone that continued throughout. (Menzel clearly understood much more English than he was comfortable admitting to officially, and he and his interpreter had become something of a comedy double-act by the end).

Menzel began by discussing the writer Bohumil Hrabal and his various travails with the authorities: he was very much a cult figure at a time when the Czech authorities were relaxing the imposition of Socialist Realism. Menzel and his friends initially made a film (Pearls of the Deep) that consisted of a number of Hrabal adaptations, and Hrabal was sufficiently impressed not only to let Menzel adapt his novel Closely Observed Trains for the screen, but to agree to work on the script with the young neophyte (who wasn’t even thirty at the time).

Hrabal is often described as being essentially untranslatable, his work often consisting of seemingly random anecdotes and streams of consciousness - but Menzel pointed out that although this might be true linguistically, he’s actually much easier to adapt for film as his writing is so visual. Although the script for Closely Observed Trains was revised six times before Hrabal and Menzel were satisfied with it, that’s scarcely a problem (”Like a good spirit, it has to be distilled.”)

Hrabal died in 1997, but had several conversations with Menzel on the subject of I Served the King of England. Menzel initially turned down the project, as he thought it was too complex. Then, shortly before Hrabal’s death, he relented and wrote a first draft of the script, of which Hrabal was… constructively critical. He was nicer about the second draft, though Menzel doubted whether he’d actually read it. Menzel said that it was ultimately good for the film that he couldn’t get it off the ground for several years (he didn’t specify why, but the project was tied up in legal red tape over a dispute over the rights).

Someone asked him whether he had any plans to film Hrabal’s masterpiece Too Loud a Solitude, but Menzel said he didn’t dare: he thought the material was too strong. Hames pointed out that he’d actually toned down quite a lot of the darker material in I Served the King of England, but Menzel defended this by pointing out that the scene in the novel where Lise is decapitated would be easier to process in verbal form than it would be in visual form, where the image would be so powerful that it would unbalance everything else. (He added that it would also make the film “too contemporary”, to audience laughter).

In response to a question about whether the film was a comedy, Menzel said yes. Although it might seem that the protagonist Jan Dítě is hard to sympathise with after he turns a blind eye to the Nazi threat, this was part of Menzel’s overall portrait of what he sees as the Czech character, and its infinite capacity for blending in. Dítě is a typical Czech figure, and he’s made likeable in order to establish some point of identification. (”Dítě has to be good, even if his deeds aren’t”). He said that writing the script took a year and a half, but shooting was generally delightful as he was working with an excellent team. However, the worst bit was reading the largely negative reviews in the Czech press (”Czech critics are cleverer than the rest of us”).

The discussion about the film was interleaved with various other subjects: Menzel reminisced briefly about his time at FAMU when he studied alongside many of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave, but in response to a question about whether he was consciously evoking Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (Sedmikrásky, 1966) in the film’s frequent food scenes, Menzel said a stronger role model was Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973).

Asked about how Eastern European films differ today from those made under socialism, Menzel said that it’s harder to make films today because filmmakers previously had very specific artistic aims, often dictated by external forces (technological or political restrictions). Today, you can do literally anything, and this can be limiting. Also, it was easier to get funding under socialism once the project had been approved.

Asked about the differences between adapting Hrabal and the equally distinguished novelist Vladislav Vančura (author of Capricious Summer/Rozmarné léto, which Menzel filmed in 1967), Menzel quipped that Vančura was much easier to work with, as he was dead and couldn’t defend himself.

Acknowledging that all his films can be described as comedies, Menzel explained that humour has a long tradition in Czech literature, and most classical books have some element of humour (”so it’s in my blood”). Czech humour is very close to Jewish humour, in that the Czechs often see themselves as serfs running rings around their masters, unlike Hungarians or Russians who saw themselves very much in the latter role. Unsurprisingly, Menzel is a big fan of silent comedy, and he fondly cited Chaplin and the way his films are “narrated by the image”.

And that, sadly, was all that I had time for - but I Served the King of England is opening in London on May 9th, and I’m hoping to have written about at least some of Menzel’s earlier Hrabal adaptations in more detail by then. Surprisingly, all five are out on DVD with English subtitles (a complete list of current Menzel DVDs can be found here), and while the Czech DVD of the new film isn’t English-friendly, it will doubtless appear on a British or American label at some point this year.

Posted on 28th April 2008
Under: Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Jiří Menzel | 1 Comment »

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