Jirí Menzel – Skrivánci na niti AKA Larks on a String [+Extra] (1969)


Long-Repressed Tale of Repression
The junk heap to which the characters of “Larks on a String” are consigned is a kind of paradise. Here, in the early 1950’s, former members of Czechoslovakia’s banished bourgeoisie are nominally engaged in forced labor, but in fact are free to play cards, discuss philosophy, joke sardonically about their situation and languish as they choose.

The men in this group — among them a professor who refused to destroy decadent Western literature, a saxophonist whose very instrument was considered an offense against the state and a lawyer who upheld the radical idea that a defendant ought to be allowed to plead his case — also spend a lot of time trading secret smiles and sidelong glances with a group of female prisoners nearby. The women, dressed in drably functional uniforms, nonetheless manage to look nymphlike as they laugh and frolic and hum little tunes. The setting is bleak and the season unspecified, but in spirit, it might as well be spring. Continue reading Jirí Menzel – Skrivánci na niti AKA Larks on a String [+Extra] (1969)

Frantisek Vlácil – Stíny horkého léta aka Shadows of a Hot Summer (1978)


Jason Sanders, Pacific Film Archive
Frantisek Vlacil’s Shadows of a Hot Summer shared the Grand Prize at Karlovy Vary in 1978, and drew comparisons to Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs for its tense tale of a gentle man pushed to violence in defence of family and home. Mixing potboiler plot with Vlačil’s trademark poetry, the film is set in the summer of 1947, when remnants of enemy forces still roamed the Czech countryside. A Moravian farmer and his family are taken hostage by a group composed of different soldiers, who fought on the German side during the war. Czechoslovakia is on the verge of accepting Communism; the fighters are desperate to get to the Austrian frontier. The farmer initially yields to his captors’ demands, but as the ordeal stretches from days into weeks, he realizes that he will have to take matters into his own hands. Some interpreted the film as a subversive parable of the Warsaw Pact’s 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia. “One of the key films of Czechoslovakia’s otherwise sterile post-Prague Spring era … Fitting a nuanced psychology more attuned to Kieslowski into a narrative more worthy of Stallone, Shadows is one of the rediscoveries of the year”. Continue reading Frantisek Vlácil – Stíny horkého léta aka Shadows of a Hot Summer (1978)

Jirí Menzel – Slavnosti snezenek AKA Snowdrop celebrations (1983)



Episodic misadventures of people living in an isolated Czech holiday village. One man is collecting anything that is a bargain, including only shoes for the left leg (cheaper than buying them in a pair) while another enjoys watching TV with a goat in his coach. When hunters of one association shoot a boar in a school, an argument explodes because the school lies on the territory of another association of hunters. The school teacher, however, manages to reach a compromise: divide the boar meat between the two hunter camps. However, during dinner, the hunters again start a quarrel. Continue reading Jirí Menzel – Slavnosti snezenek AKA Snowdrop celebrations (1983)

Jaromil Jires – Zert AKA The Joke (1969)


Possibly the most shattering indictment of totalitarianism to come out of a Communist country, this film was completed just after the Soviet tanks rolled into the streets of Prague in 1968. It is an astonishingly honest and disturbing film not only for its devastating attack on Stalinism, but also for its uncompromising view of the hypocrisy of political turncoats and the opportunistic new middle classes. Chronicling one man’s journey from youthful frivolity through political imprisonment to final awareness, it is a chilling examination of a corrupt society blighted by fear as much as by the cynicism that pays lip-service to ‘humanitarian’ ideals. Continue reading Jaromil Jires – Zert AKA The Joke (1969)

Jaromil Jires – Valerie a týden divu AKA Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)


A girl on the verge of womanhood finds herself in a sensual fantasyland of vampires, witchcraft, and other threats in this eerie and mystical movie daydream. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders serves up an endlessly looping, nonlinear fairy tale, set in a quasi-medieval landscape. Ravishingly shot, enchantingly scored, and spilling over with surreal fancies, this enticing phantasmagoria from director Jaromil Jireš is among the most beautiful oddities of the Czechoslovak New Wave. (Criterion) Continue reading Jaromil Jires – Valerie a týden divu AKA Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Jirí Menzel – Ostre sledované vlaky AKA Closely Watched Trains (1966)


“The entire town knows that I want to be a train dispatcher for the simple reason that I don’t want to do anything?just like my ancestors?but stand on the platform with a signal disc and avoid any hard work, while others have to drudge and toil.” – Milos Hrma Continue reading Jirí Menzel – Ostre sledované vlaky AKA Closely Watched Trains (1966)