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Czech New Wave

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Czech and Slovak Cinema
by Andrew James Horton
on GreenCine.com





  • 1960 Vyssí princip / Higher Principle (Jiri Krejcik)
  • 1960 Romeo, Julie a Tma / Romeo, Juliet and Darkness / Sweet Light in a Dark Room (Jirí Weiss)
  • 1962 Transport z raje / Transport From Paradise (Zbynek Brynych)
  • 1963 Az prijde kocour / The Cassandra Cat / The Cat Who Wore Sunglasses / When the Cat Comes (Vojtech Jasny)
  • 1964 Cerny petr / Peter and Pavla (Milos Forman)
  • 1964 Starci na chmelu / Hop Side Story / The Hop Pickers (Ladislav Rychman)
  • 1964 A boring afternoon (Ivan Passer)
  • 1965 The junk shop / Brutalité récupérées (Juraj Herz)
  • 1965 Nikdo se nebude smát / Nobody Will Laugh (Hynek Bocan)
  • 1965 At' zije Republika / Long Live the Republic / Vive la République! (Karel Kachyna)
  • 1965 Lásky jedné plavovlásky / Loves of a Blonde (Milos Forman)
  • 1966 Intimni osvetleni / Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)
  • 1966 Mucedníci lásky / Martyrs of Love (Jan Nemec)
  • 1966 Sedmikrasky / Daisies (Vera Chytilová)
  • 1966 O slavnosti a hostech / The Party and the Guests (Jan Nemec)
  • 1966 Ostre sledované vlaky / Closely Watched Trains (Jiri Menzel)
  • 1967 Marketa Lazarová (Frantisek Vlacil)
  • 1967 Udoli vcel / Valley of the bees (Frantisek Vlacil)
  • 1968 Vsichni dobrí rodáci / All Good Citizens / Chronique morave (Vojtech Jasny)
  • 1968 Zert / The Joke (Jaromil Jires)
  • 1968 Nejkrásnejsí vek / The Most Beautiful Age (Jaroslav Papousek)
  • 1969 Smutecní slavnost / Funeral Ceremony (Zdenek Sirovy)
  • 1969 Ovoce stromu rajskych jime / Fruits of Paradise (Vera Chytilova)





Vyssí princip / Higher Principle (1960/Jiri Krejcik/Czech) +++
Reinhard Heydrich, dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Hitler's third man after Himmler, is assassinated by a czech commando in Prague on spring 1942. The 3rd Reich declares a national mourning, and will retaliate with random executions in Czech occupied territories. Meanwhile students of Pardubice prepare their graduation exam with the latin professor, nicknamed "Mister Higher Principle" for his moral lectures. A frat joke noticed by the gestapo will bring trouble in town. A new SS commandant is appointed and 3 students are arrested without trial. Suspicion corrupts mutual respect and friendship among oppressed people fearing for their life and the safety of their loved ones. The tension unmasks propensity to individualism or forces heroism.
Through philosophy and roman history the latin professor put into perspective the condition of being occupied by a tyrant. Ironically the exam subject is a citation of Seneca, the adviser of bloodthirsty emperor Nero. This philosopher had to commit suicide when accused of plotting against the tyrant, which echoes the situation in the film.
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Transport z raje / Transport From Paradise (1962/Zbynek Brynych/Czech) +++
Opening sequence: Shot from inside a luxury car, on the passenger seat, shallow focus set on the Mercedes sign on one side of the screen and a black rigid SS flag at the front of the car to the other side of the screen. The background is out of focus, we see the road with signposts on teh side saying "warning", "ghetto", "keep out"... then some barracks, barriers and a gate. The car pulls out, the camera pans to the side where an Oberführer waits with a grin and opens the door.
Music outside, people dancing and singing. Then we notice some klieglight in the background, and a voice shouting directing orders in a megaphone. We realize this is a propaganda film being staged.
On the continuity of this exploration of movie set backstage, the camera opens in a dark cave where silhouettes are hunting a cat. In a few phrases, some key roles of the story are defined, and anounce already the tension existing between friends.
A subversive film from the czech new wave.
The first sequence veils the ghetto from the outside with blur like if nobody should/could see it. Meanwhile the Mercedes sign, like a sniper crosshair, seems to hunt a target as it is static on the screen and the road behind it is moving.
The movie set marks the cynical humor of the film. Right away the ghetto is split between the happy camp the nazi wants the world to believe in, and the hard reality of a ghetto ruled by fear and discipline.
The Terezin concentration camp in czech occupied territories during WW2. A general arrives to check the ghetto before approving a visit of the Red Cross. According to an idea of the führer a film is being shot in the ghetto, by a jewish director, with staged happiness and singing children for propaganda purpose.
The general finds a pro-russian poster in the ghetto, "Death to Fascism", and orders the deportation of 2000 jews from this ghetto to Birkenau for "special treatment" in retaliation. The dean of the jewish council in the ghetto, Nobel prize of chemistry who invented aspirin, refuses to sign the paperwork of this unusual transport and is arrested.
Until the transport is formed the tension builds up among the people on both sides: the organised underground of the jews running an illegal print workshop, also the german hierarchy composed of individuals with variable loyalty and ambition. The human flaw is the loophole of the system allowing for the slimest leeway. Even under oppression and the threat of death, lust is still a powerful drive to bend the minds, the dark humor of the czech new wave.
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Az prijde kocour / The Cassandra Cat / The Cat Who Wore Sunglasses (1963/Vojtech Jasny) +++




Cerny petr / Peter and Pavla (1964/Milos Forman) ++++



Starci na chmelu / Hop Side Story / The Hop Pickers (1964/Ladislav Rychman) +++



Mucedníci lásky / Martyrs of Love (1966/Jan Nemec/Czech) +++
A B&W surrealist triptych, inspired by dream work, a kafkaian universe and discontinuous montage. Funny and surprising.
Surrealist cinema Award 1966 - Special mention Locarno 1967

Part 1: Martyrs of Love
A young shy bureaucrat dressed up in black like a Magritte model, with a melon hat and an umbrella, dreams of women legs and spends the night with a girl he met in a jazz club. Surrealist visual poem about shyness/lust for erotism / Shots of woman's legs and breasts.
Homage to René Clair's Entr'Acte. Cameo of the girls from Daisies, and participation of Lindsay Anderson.

Part 2: The dreams of Anastasia. Erotic dream
A girl living on a train, daydreams about erotic fantasies in a castle with aristocrats, a military wedding and a gipsy. Social and religious critique to ridiculize ceremonious protocol and discipline, perverted by veiled libido. Sexual symbols against puritan education. Pursuits in uniforms in the streets and gardens of Prague.

Part 3: The adventures of an orphan Rudolf. A farce burelesque.
Rudolf is mistaken for Jacob by an eccentric family who celebrate his return with a champagne feast, undress him and dress him up. A girl falls in love and begs him to come back. But the house is not to be found again. Waste of money by eccentric aristocrats, house trashing, pursuit, absurd idleness of the wealthy.
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Ostre sledované vlaky / Closely Watched Trains (1966/Jiri Menzel) ++++



O slavnosti a hostech / The Party and the Guests (Czechoslovakia/1966/Jan Nemec) ++++
a very disturbing film between political satire and abstract theatre. forbidden during 2 decades in the Communist Block!
4 joyful couples are having a picnic in the woods before heading together to a wedding ceremony they more or less enthousisticaly anticipate. the personality of each character is outlined in a few determinant lines on few key subjects like ambition, marriage, order and food. we notice the dominants and the passive ones. suddenly the arrival of a strange shameless man, who ask direct and offesive questions, kill the pleasant atmosphere of a quiet promenade. politely they ask him to go, and then push him away, when 20 of his friends appear and grab them by force to take them to a bizarre improvised trial without charges...
the story is very Kafkaian (re Welles' The Trial), and reminds strongly of Haneke's Funny Game setup.
the absurd "trial", slides into a man hunt when one of the guest escaped, and everyone is convinced to get him back through subtle manipulation of curtesy and flatering. this is scary, and highly politicaly incorrect (especially when u think it was created under the communist clamp!)
a masterpiece of manipulation and mise en scene.


Marketa Lazarová (Frantisek Vlacil) +++



Vsichni dobrí rodáci / All Good Citizens / Chronique morave (1968/Vojtech Jasny/Czech) +
Chronicle of a community of farmers, spaning a couple of decades, in a post WW2 rural village overtaken by the communist rule, in the czech province of Moravia, before the russian occupation. A realist social drama, testimony of an epoch, when the idealism of the communism theory prompted a few men to take control of the workforce and properties for the greater good. A careful critique of this manipulative process on the verge of legality using pressure and personal threats. The wealthiest families are driven away and their farm ceized to form a kolkhoze (collective farm), although these idealists are motivated by the prosperous economic plans of the USSR, they have no practical sense to figure how to work it out. So this authoritarian power is helpless to produce proficiently as the good farmer with a traditional (and individualistic) knowledge of agriculture refuse to take part in the project. Their resistance to defend the moravian identity is an obstacle to be taken care of by force.
A handful of companions, characterized by a stereotypical trait (pronunciation impairment, thief, gipsy, greed, ambition, honesty, lust...) are put into dramatic situation when they have to make a choice, take side, make a mistake and take responsability. Coveting, suspicion, delation, murder or suicide. Notably a gipsy who divorced his jewish wife during the german occupation and drink away his remorse over her death in a camp. Or the righteous man who prefers to be sent to a rehabilitation camp than to sell his soul to communism, and insist to finish mowing his field before they take him away.
Several lyrical scenes bring poetry and irony to the otherwise rather bleak and banal narration carried out by a recurrant voiceover. Animals from the dog to the horse, pigs or geese, represent the primordial wealth of these families who rely on a good production. The music of the church choir or the bar band plays a structuring part to consolidate the community falling apart, like the allegorical paintings of the local artist or the masks of a traditional folklore.
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Zert / The Joke (1968/Jaromil Jires) +++



Ovoce stromu rajskych jime / Fruits of Paradise (1969/Vera Chytilova) ++++