Frantisek Vlácil – Marketa Lazarová (1967)

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In less than a minute, before the film’s opening titles even conclude, Marketa Lazarová has announced itself as something potentially unique, perhaps indefinable. The first line of a brief prologue declares, “This tale was cobbled together almost at random,” before a title card reiterates what we’re about to see as a “rhapsody in film,” one “freely adapted” by director František Vláčil and co-screenwriter František Pavlíček. That all these things are soon confirmed, even exceeded, is certainly the impetus behind Marketa Lazarová’s reputation as simultaneously one of the greatest and most difficult works of Czechoslovakian cinema. Though it emerged at the height of what came to be known as the Czech New Wave, this 1967 film stands as something rare not just amid the anarchic vulgarity of Daisies or the emotional naïveté of Loves of a Blonde, but also among the greater cinematic landscape of the period. What this film is—along with being, yes, random, free, and rhapsodic—is something stranger, something paradoxical and altogether original: an intimate epic, a tangible hallucination, a visceral symphony, and, perhaps most affectingly, a beautiful display of brutality. Continue reading

Milos Forman – Lásky jedné plavovlásky AKA Loves of a Blonde (1965)

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The flirtatious title of Milos Forman’s breakthrough comedy Loves of a Blonde says a lot about the film without even trying. Everybody in Forman’s bittersweet film thinks about sex constantly but only in terms of hypothetical scenarios that almost never come to pass. The funny thing about these daydreams of coitus is that they’re not strictly sexy. In fact, most of the time characters in Loves of a Blonde are wringing their hands about sex, even the trio of homely soldiers licking their lips at the thought of seducing a table of bored blondes at a local dance. First they send alcohol to the wrong table and are subsequently unsure of how long they should smile at the girls they plan on getting drunk and taking to the woods (they aren’t even sure if the idea of taking girls to the woods for sex is just a euphemism or not). Sex is comedy here because it breeds nothing but the kind of anxiety that the title of Forman’s film teems with. Continue reading

Petr Václav – Nikdy nejsme sami AKA We Are Never Alone (2016)

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A paranoid prison guard moves into a village flanked by a state motorway. He befriends his new neighbour, an unemployed hypochondriac supported by his wife, working in the local grocery. Weary of life and caring for her two sons, she develops an attraction to the nightclub bouncer, but he is in love with the club stripper, who is in turn waiting for the father of her child to return from the same prison where our prison guard works. A story about the demons of our day. Continue reading

Wiktor Grodecki – Telo bez duse AKA Body Without Soul (1996)

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An unflinching portrait of life on the post-Communist streets of Prague where young men find it all too easy to pick up extra money as porno models and hustlers. Their clients consist largely of German, Swiss, and Dutch tourists in search of cheap sex – and for additional income they make pornos on the side. Along the way they are ripped off, abused, and degraded until they simply wear out. Continue reading

Otakar Vávra – Kladivo na carodejnice AKA Witches’ Hammer AKA Witchhammer (1970)

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Synopsis:
The time is the seventeenth century. The beggar Maryna Schuchová hides the Host in her scarf at the Communion. She admits to the parish priest Schmidt that she intended to give it to the midwife Groerová to heal her ailing cow. The young priest declares her a witch and convinces the Sumperk countess De Galle to summon the inquisitor Boblig from Edelstadt. This failed student of law sees the offer as a great opportunity. He uses torture and threats to force the women from the to testify to their meetings with the devil and learn by heart the lies he has made up for the inquisition tribunal. Boblig accuses the wealthy burghers of witchcraft as well, and so wants to seize their possessions.

— IMDb. Continue reading

Oldrich Lipský – Happy End (1967)

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Delightfully witty and with a Kafkaesque spin, Oldřich Lipský‘s brilliant film Happy End (1967) is a quirky little gem from the archives of cinematic history. Crafted with unrelenting precision and grace, Stastny Konec (to give it its Czech name) really gives its audience a taste of the bleak humour renowned by Czech comedy. Without spoiling too much, the film concerns the wondrous (or tragic) life-story of the kind-hearted (or vengeful) butcher Bedrich Frydrych (Vladmír Mensík), his various ups and downs with his wife Julie (Jaroslava Obermaierová) and the tribulations of a surreal existence in reverse. Continue reading

Petr Kazda & Tomás Weinreb – Já, Olga Hepnarová AKA I, Olga Hepnarova (2016)

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Olga Hepnarova was a young, lonely lesbian outsider from a coldhearted family who couldn’t play the part society had chosen for her. Her paranoid self-examination and inability to connect with other people eventually drove her over the edge of humanity when she was only 22 years old. The film shows the human being behind the mass murderer. Guided by her letters, we delve into Olga’s psyche and witness the worsening of her loneliness.

Olga is a complex young woman desperate to break free from her unfeeling family and social conventions. With her Louise Brooks-like tomboyish looks she drags herself, chain-smoking, from one job to another until she appears to find her niche as a truck driver. Although she has female lovers she does not form a bond with any of them; instead she clashes, time and again, venting herself in wordless emotional outbursts and other behavioural extremes. Continue reading