My Czech Film Festival

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My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 29, 2006 2:26 am

Well ladies and gentlemen, I am embarking on my own private marathon of Czech cinema. I'm not sure to what extent this shall go, whether it be 5 films, 10 films, or 20. The point is I shall attempt to find and watch every film from Czechoslovakia I can get my hands on. Now there are a few reasons to attribute for this.

1. My own ignorance of Czech films. Sure I've seen a few, but nothing to be anything close to an authority.

2. Madhuban - Well I'm inspired a little here, and I certainly can't have you running around being the expert on something without at least trying to contest it now can I?

3. I live in Chicago - With Facets only a few blocks down the street and several well stocked libraries I shall be rather well provided for in my quest. Facets is internationally known as being the foremost proprietors of Czech and Eastern European cinema in general, and with a headquarters here, I'm in good shape. Leaving the Harold Washington Library I grabbed 5 Czech films (the most I could check out considering I also grabbed Visconti's Ludwig), and I didn't even scratch the surface.

4. A girl - There's always a girl involved in these stories and well why not? One of the waitresses I work with happens to be from Czechoslovakia. Sure she's pretty and all that jazz, but when her face lighted up when I was able to name several films I'd already seen I got greedy. Likewise I may very well find myself having a partner in this minor film festival, and with any luck some type of contextual interpreter.

5. Boredom - I'm done with school for at least the next 6 weeks, I have one job that I only work 2-3 days a week, and I've been drinking far too much. So with some constructive film watching I shall positively direct my abundant energy, and I actually feel like focusing on a topic rather than my usual extremely random movie watching. Don't misunderstand I plan on getting a few outside films in the mix, perhaps a trip to the cinema, and I have the above mentioned Ludwig as well as Pasolini's Teorema to get watched and returned within the next week.

Now as far as the rules for this thread. Interjection and comments are more than welcome. If I mention a film you have seen, by all means offer your opinion, or even a full review if you feel like it. If you care to submit your own reviews into the mix, I'm not opposed either. If any of you have recomendations as to where I should go with this, feel free to voice them. My comments will most likely range from the sparse plot synopsis (so as I can at least remember what the film was loosely about) to a full interpretive analysis as I become inspired. I promise to at least chronicle each and every film that I watch in this, if for nothing else a record. So Madhuban, if you care to keep your title, you might want to start renting some films yourself.

Festival Program (as of today)
Wolf Trap
Murder Czech Style
Dita Saxova
Larks on a String
Diamonds of the Night
Capricious Summer
A Prayer for Katarina Horovitzova
Lemonade Joe
Black Peter

...much more to come

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Nov 29, 2006 2:46 am

Well, you wish you were living anywhere near the "greatest city on Earth." (BAMcinmatek's Czech Modernism: The 1920's to 1940's.)

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 29, 2006 3:10 am

NYC always trying to one up us small towns. I'll admit that seems immensely interesting to me, and far more exciting than the upcoming French Festivals going on at Facets and The Gene Siskel Film Center.

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 29, 2006 3:28 am

Wolf Trap (1957) - Jeri Weiss

A precursor to the New Wave this lacks the humor of those films and political allegory, but it shows that even before he had a proper movement to latch onto Jeri Weiss was an extremely competent director. The film's style borrows much from traditional Eastern European films of the era, particularly Hungarian and Russian cinema. The camera moves frequently, and a great deal of the film is photographed in wide angle lenses. However like many films outside of major film producing centers, the widescreen was yet to quite catch on.

The film's premise is simple enough. A married couple adopts an orphan (although rather far along in her adolesence) and well there becomes a little strife. The wife in this couple is older, fatter, uglier, and more domineering, and the husband well you can't blame him for finding his new foster child something to behold. The film is extraordinary in its casting, not just in looks but in acting ability as well. Jana is equal parts beautiful and emotional. You almost want to weep for her throughout. Her devotion is mixed as well. Despite also falling in love with her stepfather she nevertheless feels a daughterly aattachment to her stepmother, who she calls auntie throughout the film. This gives the film an odd differentiation and made me think for the first 20 minutes or so that the couple that adopted her weren't married, but siblings.

We're not supposed to like Auntie, and Weiss does a great job of setting her up early. She recognizes the grace of Jana and has aspirations to make her more "ladylike". However her treatment of her housekeepers is abominable and her smothering of her husband is wretched. She gets more intolerable as the film progresses, but we're almost never on her side, and this can also be due to the casting. Robert is just smart, talented, dignified, and moderately young enough to be a romantic lead, and something that not only Jana would be attracted to (following some sort of father fixation) but also make someone like her aunt monstrously attached to him.

Watching this film without the pretext of a film movement or style you wonder exactly how its going to play out. Traditional American cinema would offer some devious murder plot as the only way out, however as I've already explained there is a geniune attachment that Jana feels for her aunt. In a more liberated context a divorce would have worked wonders. However this film is stuck in the middle between melodrama and liberated cinema. Perhaps there is a tie in to the present Communist regime and the message isn't revolution, but quiet patience and everything will eventually work out? Most Czech films are comments on the political climate disguised as farces or melodrama, so read in this light Aunt Klara certainly seems totolitarian. Also the beuracracy that keeps Robert away from home so long is an example of government innefficancy that keeps families apart? Food for thought, and something to leave part 1 of this marathon with.

*Wolf Trap is available on VHS from Facets

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Nov 29, 2006 5:54 am

Good start. I think mentioning the availability of these films will be beneficial to readers.

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 29, 2006 5:57 am

Done and done.

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 29, 2006 6:56 am

Daisies (1966) - Vera Chytilova

One of the best known, and most bizarre films of the New Wave, Vera Chytilova's Daisies is a fresh and at times baffling cinematic experiment. The plot is easy, two girls decide to "go bad" and proceed to try and top each other with hilarious antics of open rebellion. The film is destrucive as can be, and nearly every cinematic trick is employed. This is an expansion of many of the great silent avant-garde films with sound equally being distorted, with mismatched sound effects and over exageratted noises, everything in this film is out of perspective. There are so many collages, photographic effects, and bending of our perspective that its hard to adequately list these devices. A fresh and vibrant film that rightfully holds its place as one of the movements best.

*Daisies is available on DVD from Facets

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby madhuban » Wed Nov 29, 2006 10:20 am


Wow!!! I am more than glad to have potential company (if you are suitably impressed after a while) as the somewhat lone canvasser (no, I am simply no expert) for Czech cinema Great thread! Never mind what the inspiration is - my somewhat annoying insistence or your new Czech friend - but it feels wonderful to know that you are doing full justice to the Facets collection. The flipside is that I wish I had a Facets next door! The renting library here has the most predictable things - one Menzel, one Forman and Klos & Kadar. I have a far better collection actually! Looking forward to your responses to films I have a particular fondness for, and more than willing to be enlightened about those I have no access to. You've already addressed both experiences with your first set of reviews - Daisies and Wolf Trap! Keep up the good work


Oh hell! I've seen only three films from the Czech Modernism list of screenings - Kreutzer Sonata, Tonka of the Gallows and Virginity!


P.S. If one is allowed to predict, Daisies and Larks on a String might be the top picks from the first set

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby wpqx » Sat Dec 02, 2006 1:18 am

Murder Czech Style (1966) - Jeri Weiss

My second Weiss film among this fest, and this one is a lot more akin to the New Wave than Wolf Trap. This film plays with fantasies and surrealism to a much greater extent, and the direct parody of beuracracy is in full force. This makes it a bit more scathing than the previous film, but also a little more interesting. The hero here is anything but a heartthrob, but he still manages to score a pretty beautiful girl, but keeping her is another mess. I'll admit this film jumped around enough to get me rather confused as to what was happening, but at least it was something different. I'm running on low sleep and this was my third film of the day.

Re: My Czech Film Festival

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Dec 02, 2006 1:34 am

Oh hell! I've seen only three films from the Czech Modernism list of screenings - Kreutzer Sonata, Tonka of the Gallows and Virginity!

The Village Voice's Jim Hoberman, who is one of the best film critics in the U.S., has written about the series. Here's a sampling which mentions the three films.

"The series opens sophisticated with Gustav Machat's 1926 adaptation of The Kreutzer Sonata. Machat, who spent the early '20s in Hollywood working with Eric von Stroheim among others, brought a measure of Stroheim's "European" cynical realism back home; updating Leo Tolstoy's once scandalous account of sexual jealousy with deco sets and expressionist lighting, he similarly uses crime and confession to critique the institution of middle-class marriage."

"That Czech filmmakers were making montage-driven melodramas as late as 1937 is evidenced by the glossier but not dissimilar Virginity. Shot in Prague's capacious Barrandov studio by Otakar Vvra, who, still active at age 95, is the great survivor of Czech cinema, this urban romance concerns an impoverished girl, blamed for her stepfather's unwelcome advances and thrown into the street by her mother. She finds work as a cashier and even love but ultimately has no choice other than to sell herself to her boss.

A more startling evocation of female martyrdom, Karel Anton's 1930 Tonka of the Gallows is an expressionist ballad in which a kindhearted country girl turned big-city prostitute volunteers to keep a condemned man company on his last night. No good deed goes unpunished: Tonka is expelled from the brothel where she works and, like Hans Christian Andersen's match girl, winds up dyingamid visions of happinesson the pavement."


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