Entries tagged with “Czech cinema”.


For the second consecutive year the cinematheque in my city hosts a Czech Film Festival, and the most interesting film I have seen by now is this work co-directed by and describing an event that took place more than 40 years ago in what was then Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. It was by all criteria a shocking event, especially for the ‘quiet’ and ‘normalized’ Czechoslovakia of the 1970s. Today we would immediately suspect a terror attack, but the roots of crime of the girl who one day drove her truck in a bus station in Prague killing eight people have their origins not in ideology but in a deep personal trauma and in the complete failure of a system that could not perform basic obligations to its citizens, and even less knew how to tolerate differences and deal with the individuals in trouble.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2953762/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2953762/

 

Olga Hepnarova grew up in a mid-class normative family, but was by all criteria a non-normative young woman – rebel, non-communicative, isolated by her school and work colleagues, a lesbian in a society that did not tolerate homosexuality. I found the acting performance of to be superb, she is living within her character, the desperation and mute cry for help of Olga crosses the screen. Can her deeds be pardoned? Hardly so, as eight innocent people lost their lives in an act of violence that she considered to be a revenge on the system. Is the environment she lived in responsible also for her situation? So it seems, as she seems to be permanently looking for something or somebody to cling on, but she finds nothing in the system (doctors, psychologists, companies she worked for) and nobody among her family or the people she meets who can or wants to help. She is described as a schizophrenic, considered herself bullied and persecuted by everybody around, and had a strange detachment between her intelligence and the way she lived, her actions and reality. Only in the last very moment she seems to have realized that that was for real, and of course, that was too late.

 

(video source Strand Releasing)

 

Directors and decided to make this film in the style of the good Czech cinema of the 1960s. This is reflected not only the black-and-white coloring, but also in the approach in describing the daily reality. We are in Czechoslovakia of those times, we see how people lived and the problems they faced, we are faced with the dullness and lack of hope of their lives, but the critic of the system is never explicit . The script is written and the film is made like censorship is still in place. Good story telling, inspired editing, and excellent acting performances make this film interesting, although we know the end (and the Czech viewers know even better the story). It’s not easy to watch as this is a grim story with an unavoidable tragic ending, a spiral of fall and desperation that never provides a ray of hope – but those who are interested in the life of that side of the Iron Curtain during the cold war and in good cinema will be rewarded.

The assassination in Prague in 1942 of Reinhardt Heydrich – ‘protector’ of Bohemia and Moravia and one of the planners of the ‘final solution’ – was one of the most spectacular events of WWII. Although it did not change dramatically the fate of the war, it had a strong impact on the moral of both the German as well as the Czech and other nations fighting on the allies side, proving that the Nazi occupiers were not immortal and that punishment was to be inflicted on the heads of their regime. It also led to savage reprisals that destroyed any hope of cooperation between the German and the occupied Czech areas.  ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ based on a novel by and directed by carefully describes the main characters of this historical drama as well as the events before and after the attack on Heydrich.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3296908

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3296908

 

A few weeks ago I have seen ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ which figured as central character the wife of a Polish Resistance hero who helped him in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews in occupied Poland. The first half of ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ had the chance to develop as a ‘The Holocaust Planner Wife’ with a description of the biography and ascension to power of Reinhardt Heydrich, from an immoral officer in the German navy to the highest ranks of the SS under the influence of his wife. We are used to think positively about love stories, and this is a love story of a different kind, the one between two mean people, united by an ideology of hate, deeply corrupt despite the cultural polish of their education and hobbies.  This part of the story and the film is supported by the splendid actor work of , with also giving a convincing performance as the hateful and hated ReichProtektor. I liked less the ‘punk’ version of Himmler created by , it was supposed to be sarcastic, but hard to laugh about such an horrific historic character. Over all this part of the film is the best in my opinion, and maybe would have deserved to be developed more. The authors of the script however decided to cut the action in the middle and focus in the second part on the resistance fighters who prepared and executed the assassination, the consequences of their deeds and their fatal fate. It was not bad, but closer to the beaten paths.

 

(video source FilmTrailerZone)

 

Events of WWII like this one seem to continue to be a source of inspiration for film makers – best proof is that ’The Man with the Iron Heart’  is released less than one year away from ‘Anthropoid’. Each brings a different perspective, and some of them succeed in creating solid stories, with heroes we care about (sympathize or hate). It’s the case of this film as well, a film that I recommend.

I know that it’s some kind of an unfair comparison, but so it happens that I have seen ‘s The Noonday Witch (the original name is Polednice - Midday) at the Czech film festival, and then ‘s Julieta in an interval of less than 24 hours. What do the two films – one the debut long feature of a young Czech director, the other the latest production of one of the best-known contemporary directors – in common? Well, there is actually a central theme to both – mother-daughter relationships as their are hit by the tragedy of the disappearing of the father but also mostly by the lack or incapacity of communication of the two principal characters. While there cannot be any doubt about which film is better (I liked immensely Almodovar’s film, one of the best I have seen in recent years) there are enough interesting elements also in The Noonday Witch which make it worth a look.

 

sursa imaginii http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4917700/

sursa imaginii http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4917700/

 

The story is one of falling into madness. A mother and her daughter return to the village were Thomas, the disappeared father and husband has grown up and lived. It’s a drought period and nature is threatening (similar background with the one in Schmitke, another Czech production that I have seen a few days ago, but in a different manner and palette), the small rural community have to face not only nature but also the presumed presence of magical forces around. This meddling of threatening nature and magic seems to be a recurring theme in the Czech cinema, as is the incapacity of the community to face threats through rational means, and overall their failure to communicate and get together. Lack of communication and the rebellion of the daughter against the mother who tried to protect her by hiding the truth is the source of the crisis and of the sliding into insanity of the mother.

 

(video source kviff)

 

Until now we have quite a parallel track with the story in Julieta. From here on it’s an execution problem, and the path that was chosen without too much effect is trying to build a magic thriller story. Maybe the problem is with the director having seen too many horror movies of the kind inspired by ‘s novels and short stories. He tries here (and on us viewers) all kind of old tricks and relies less on the assets at hand – the team of actors and especially the kids and the wonderful . Instead trusting her and her colleagues the director recycled all kind of ‘classical’ horror editing (flash images doubled by strong sound impact) and makeup (blind eyes) effects. The result is a very average horror movie, as not too much happens for the second half of the film. With some more daring and less cinematographic quotes this could have been a much better film.

 

The second film that I have seen in the Czech film festival at our local cinematheque was a first long feature film by director , actually a co-production between the German and Czech studios, mostly spoken in German, as the lead character, herr Schmitke is German. The use of the language is justified by the story which has as one of its themes the encounter between the Eastern and Western worlds at the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/

 

Herr Schmitke is an engineer, a smart one, but a little bit overcome by the technology, or the society around or both. He invented or had a great contribution in the invention of the wind turbines that populate the hills of Europe, but now he is suddenly retrograded to the position of maintaining and fixing the old models, and on the first assignment is sent across the border in the Czech Republic, together with a young colleague. There is more than one border to cross – there are borders in language, in age, in attitude to work, but the most obvious one is the change of landscape. We are in the Czech mountains, the forest surrounds everything, spirits are haunting it, people disappear.

 

(video source DARLING BERLIN)

 

The premises are quite good and the film succeeds to maintain interest for about half of its duration. The low-key style of acting of Peter Kurth actually helps, I liked it. The problem is that after setting the stage for a mountain mystery, or a forest horror movie (anybody remembers The Blair Witch Project?), or maybe even better – a political metaphor about the abyss yet to be filled between the Western and Eastern sectors of the not-so-unified Europe, the story becomes completely confused, the action divides into 3 or 4 threads, none makes too much sense, none provides any answer to the questions that the viewer may have about the fate of the characters (or even of the wind turbine). It’s like several endings were put filmed, and the director could not decide which one to leave, so he left them all. The non-German characters are presented in a stereotypical and negative manner – if this was supposed to be some political comment, it was quite gross to my taste.

Schmitke starts well, but confuses and even bores towards the end.

This may be the first Czech film that I see in 40 years. The occasion is the Czech film festival hold in my city (and several other Cinematheques) in Israel. The good news are that the Czech cinema seems to be alive and doing quite well, an observation which I hope will be confirmed by the other two films that I plan to see in the coming weeks.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3650290/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3650290/

 

 ’The Snake Brothers’ directed by has an atmosphere and an intrigue which is quite typical for much of the cinema issued in the last 25 years in the former communist countries. It tells the story of two brothers and their friends in a small city in the Czech republic trying to meet ends in a world that changed the rules without adapting the economic infrastructure but especially without replacing the old set of rigid moral patterns with something that can provide a goal in life. It is however much more than another story of survival in the Wild East of the New Europe. The two brothers – one hard working and with some entrepreneurial spirit, the other smelling pure trouble in all he does and hurting everybody around in order to feed his drugs addiction – represent a modern incarnation of the Cain and Abel couple, at least apparently. As the very well written story develops we understand the things are not necessarily what they seem to be. Then end is one of the bests I have recently seen in movies, and makes you think about the fate of the characters long after the film is over, and gives a new sense (almost ad literam) to the old ‘deus ex machina’ expression. Accomplishment is often based on somebody else’s tragedy – but can this really be a source of happiness? You will find yourself asking this question after screening is over.

 

(video source Offside Men)

 

There is much more to be said about the quality of this film. Director is surprisingly at his first long feature independent film on big screens. His previous work was all TV-related, but maybe some of the accuracy in reading the psychology of the characters reflects this experience. He is strongly supported by a team of superb actors including the (real) brothers and who bring to life the small Czech city landscape. ‘The Snake Brothers’ is a (good) film about the troubled times part of Europe goes through, but is also much more than that.