O něčem jiném (Something Different, 1963)

Okay, I did a week of Czech/Czechoslovak films and came up a bit short because it turns out I’ve not seen all that many (and those I have, I wrote very short reviews about so couldn’t really use them here). Well, I’ll finish by returning to another Věra Chytilová film, her first full-length feature film in fact, though she did some shorts and the mid-length A Bagful of Fleas before (it’s available on British DVD with the film I’m reviewing today, from the excellent label Second Run).


Věra Chytilová’s first proper feature film follows two parallel stories, ostensibly quite different — a female gymnast (Eva Bosáková) trains for a major competition, a woman (Věra Uzelacová) looks after her home — but in cutting between them Chytilová finds parallels. Neither has much support from the men in their lives (the housewife somewhat less than the gymnast, whose trainer is at least there for her, even if he rarely seems to offer encouragement). Chytilová is already showing a fine eye for compositions and for cross-cutting, and the film is a rather stylishly well-made exercise.

Something Different film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Věra Chytilová; Cinematographer Jan Čuřík; Starring Eva Bosáková, Věra Uzelacová; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Saturday 30 July 2016.

Two Short Reviews of 1970 Films by Czech Women: Fruit of Paradise and The Murder of Mr Devil

In my Czech film week, I’ve already covered one Věra Chytilová film, and I’ll have more to come, but the unifying person for these two films is the writer of both, Ester Krumbachová. Each is strange, perhaps comic (more broadly so in her own directorial effort), and probably have some deep coded meanings within the context they were made, but as you’ll see from my pretty short reviews (I wasn’t lying about that), they can be pretty difficult to decode. That said, I’d definitely want to watch both again.


Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (Fruit of Paradise, 1970) [Czechoslovakia/Belgium]

A boldly, rapturously incomprehensible film, presenting the Adam and Eve origin story overlaid with visual effects (the opening sequence), saturated yet bleached in its colour palette, with spirited performances. But as to what is actually happening, I couldn’t really say. That said, it was fascinating nonetheless.

Fruit of Paradise film posterCREDITS
Director Věra Chytilová; Writers Chytilová and Ester Krumbachová; Cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera; Starring Karel Novák, Jitka Nováková; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 9 November 2016.


Vražda ing. Čerta (The Murder of Mr Devil, 1970) [Czechoslovakia]

An enjoyable satire on romance and marriage by a director whose collaboration with Věra Chytilová I think helps to place her humour. Mr Devil (Vladimír Menšík) is, quite clearly, a terrible person, and his gluttony is quickly (and somewhat repetitively) established. In some ways there’s not a lot to the film but it doesn’t much care for your bourgeois hang-ups.

The Murder of Mr Devil film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Ester Krumbachová; Cinematographer Jiří Macák; Starring Jiřina Bohdalová, Vladimír Menšík; Length 77 minutes.
Seen at Watershed, Bristol, Saturday 27 July 2019.

Extase (Ecstasy, 1933)

We’re starting to get back to having cinematic releases here in the UK which are separate from VOD online ones, though quite often they’re still released in both cinemas and online. One new release this coming Friday will be The Painted Bird, a Czech/Slovak film about World War II, and by all accounts a rather grim one at that. I haven’t seen it, and I am not entirely convinced I will go, but I am certainly intrigued. Therefore, this week! A week of Czech and Czechoslovak films, starting with this classic from 1933.


It seems somewhat unfair that this film is mainly known for its place in the history of sex/nudity in films, because it’s actually a very sensitively-made and beautifully-shot drama about a woman (the incomparable Hedy Lamarr) who is unhappy in her marriage. All of this is set up wordlessly, and although it’s not technically a silent film, there are only brief dialogue scenes and it is certainly very pleasingly parsimonious with its verbiage. We are introduced to her on her wedding day being carried across the threshold of their home by her husband (Zvonimir Rogoz), who is soon seen neatly arranging his items on the bedside table, and whose only apparent happiness is taking his shoes off. Little vignettes suggest her life with him, and there’s a recurring motif of insects being crushed (by him) or cared for (by the new love in her life, a manual labourer with fetching hair, played by Aribert Mog). As the central character, Hedy Lamarr is excellent (and yes, beautiful), and the cinematography closes in on little details to convey the emotions, as well as some nice use of double-exposure. This is top romantic melodrama, done well.

Ecstasy film posterCREDITS
Director Gustav Machatý; Writers František Horký, Machatý, Vítězslav Nezval and Jacques A. Koerpel (based on the story by Robert Horký); Cinematographers Hans Androschin and Jan Stallich; Starring Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, Zvonimir Rogoz; Length 89 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 25 September 2016.

Criterion Sunday 145: Hoří, má panenko (The Firemen’s Ball aka The Fireman’s Ball, 1967)

This seems a very slight premise — the volunteer firemen in a small town throw a ball to honour a former chairman stricken with cancer — but it builds to quite a comic evisceration of small-town bureaucracy, small-minded men or, perhaps, an entire dysfunctional government, if you want to follow it through that way. In any case, it builds plenty of gags on its thin premise, as things get ever more absurd and those red-faced old men are shown up for the ineffectively authoritarian fools they are.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Miloš Forman; Writers Forman, Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papoušek; Cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček; Starring Jan Vostrcil; Length 71 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 19 February 2017.

Criterion Sunday 144: Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde aka A Blonde in Love, 1965)

Ostensibly a film about, as the title suggests, a young blonde woman in love, there are a lot of turbulent emotional currents running through. Yes there’s love, but it’s never quite clear who feels love for whom, or whether that’s even something realistic. We start in a large group, as middle-aged soldiers court a small town’s young women — pathetically, at that. Then there’s a romantic pairing of two young people (including the title character, played by Hana Brejchová), then a section at his parents’ home which feels like a bitter rebuke to her (or to him) that things could ever work out. Or maybe they could, but no romantic feeling is uncomplicated or sentimentalised here.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Miloš Forman; Writers Forman and Jaroslav Papoušek; Cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček; Starring Hana Brejchová, Vladimír Pucholt; Length 90 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 19 February 2017.

Criterion Sunday 131: Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains aka Closely Observed Trains, 1966)

A simple film in many ways, it takes the form of a provincial sex comedy as a young man serving as a train station guard for reasons of avoiding doing any hard work tries but mostly fails to be more successful with women. But there’s also a war going on, and Czechoslovakia is controlled by the Nazis, so that becomes an increasingly important part of what the film is trying to do — equating, at some level, the coming of age story with the work of the resistance. In retrospect, it could hardly end any other way, and it’s reminiscent of the previous Criterion Collection film (The Shop on Main Street) in locating all the dramas and horrors of wartime life amongst everyday characters and in mundane situations. Also, there’s a memorable rubber stamping scene.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Jiří Menzel (based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal); Cinematographer Jaromír Šofr; Starring Václav Neckář, Josef Somr; Length 92 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 23 October 2016.

Criterion Sunday 130: Obchod na korze (The Shop on Main Street aka The Shop on the High Street, 1965)

When the fascists come they’ll offer to let you take back one of those jobs the immigrants have ‘stolen’ but you won’t have to hurt anyone so you’ll probably go along with it. It might even lead to a bit of cross-cultural comedy of misunderstandings but you just want everyone to be fine and for things to be better, and the fascists seem tolerable enough. One of them might even be a family member. But when the fascists start taking names, passing laws, and packing people on transports out of town, by then it’ll be too late and there’s really nothing you can do except get drunk and watch it all go to hell.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Directors Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos; Writers Ladislav Grosman, Kadár and Klos (based on the novel by Grosman); Cinematographer Vladimír Novotný; Starring Jozef Kroner, Ida Kamińska; Length 125 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 16 October 2016.