A student, Oldrich “Fajolo” Fajtak, has a romantic attachment to two girls: his hometown love Bela, and Jana – a lover whom he meets during a summer job on a collective farm. One storyline of the film peels layers off Bela’s permanently tense home life marked by her blind mother’s helplessness, her father’s past break with his father who lives in the village where Fajolo is finding some consolation in the arms of his new lover Jana. As Fajolo begins to pry into Bela’s grandfather’s secrets, she, in turn, allows her new boyfriend Peťo to read and deride Fajolo’s remorseful letters from the farm. This lovers’ triangle provides the film with several oppositions: town and country, intelligentsia and worker, collective and personal truth in communist Czechoslovakia. The potential symbolism of the film appeared ominous to the Communist authorities bent on banning the film, but the nascent political thaw helped the filmmakers prevail and the release of “The Sun in a Net” became its harbinger in Czechoslovak film and culture.
Stanislav Szomolányi’s location cinematography and Ilja Zeljenka’s musique concrète score remain striking. Continue reading
Juraj Lehotský’s riveting feature debut is about a troubled 15-year-old named Ela (electrifiying newcomer Michaela Bendulová) sent to live in a correctional facility. Forced there by her mother and cut off from the outside world, she keeps to herself, preferring to spend her time in solitude writing letters to her boyfriend. After escaping during New Year’s celebrations, she moves in with him, in the garage below the train tracks he calls home. Her life soon moves in unexpected directions, and, after a series of unpredictable events, Ela faces a life-changing decision. An official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, Miracle is intense, daring filmmaking. Continue reading
Three soccer fans are determined to do literally anything to get to the soccer match between Czechoslovakia and the famous representation team of Brazil. Reaching their goal to see the dream match live cannot be precluded neither by a sudden work task nor family obligations. However, there is one more obstacle in their way: for some time, their enthusiastic behavior during soccer matches has been monitored by the police. This time, it will not be easy for them to get to the stadium. Continue reading
Marek has no real friends except his guard dog and hangs out with skinheads. When his dispirited mother reappears in his life, Marek faces a horrible predicament. An authentic and hypnotic chronicle of a sluggish existence always on the verge of explosion.
A small village on the Slovak-Moravian border. Strangers are not welcome here. Locals seem to be suspicious even of each other. This is where eighteen-year-old Marek lives. His guard dog is his only true friend. Neglected by his relatives, he has found an illusory escape in the company of local skinheads. Nazi without a cause, he blindly follows them, and they train him exactly like he trains Killer, his dog. When his mother and young half-brother suddenly appear in his life, Marek faces a terrible dilemma. Either he will violently explode or he will find an inner capacity for the compassion he is so scared of. Continue reading
This film is an experiment. One dialogue, three filmmakers, three stories. Jerzy Skolimowski (Polish), Peter Solan (Slovak), and Zbynek Brynych (Czech) created their variations of the same conversation. Focusing on couples in their twenties, forties, and sixties, these three inventive sketches illustrate the emotional interaction between a man and a woman. Continue reading
“The Shop on Main Street” tells the story of Tony Brtko (Jozef Kroner), assigned as the Aryan supervisor of a small shop run by Rozalie Lautman (Ida Kaminska), a doddering old lady whose mind is mostly gone and lives in a fog, seemingly unaware that World War II is raging around her. Tony, no sympathizer to the Nazi cause, takes on the duties begrudgingly, but becomes increasingly more involved as he realizes what fate will gradually meet Rozalie. Things reach a shattering conclusion at the climax, as Tony is met by her frustrating oblivion to the danger she is in. Ida Kaminska has received most of the attention in regards to this film. Hollywood even recognized her with a Best Actress Academy Award nomination in 1966. But the standout for me was Jozef Kroner, playing a quiet, mostly lazy man who is forced against his will into the role of hero. Watching his performance is like watching a raw nerve. I had some slight problems with the director’s obsession on comparing Tony to Christ (he’s a carpenter, he repeatedly is shown having his feet bathed), but this is a minor complaint about a film that packs a tremendous emotional wallop. I defy anyone to forget the last painful, lingering image of the film (I won’t give it away), that simultaneously comments on the world that is and laments the world that could be. Continue reading
A special place in the development of feature films is reserved for Eduard Grečner, the creator of just one good film, Dragon Returns (Drak sa vracia, 1967), titled after the nickname of the lead character. After his initial work with Uher, Grečner made his mark as a proponent of the so-called “intellectual” film, the antithesis of the sociologically, or rather, socially critical film. Grečner’s great role model was Alan Resnais, a young French filmmaker who sought to introduce Slovakia to the idea of film as a labyrinth in which meanings are created not by stories, but by complex configurations of dialogue, shots, and various layers of time, thus differentiating film from both literature and theater.
In Dragon Returns―the story of a solitary hero who is needed by villagers living far in the mountains, but who is rejected by them at the same time because of his detachment―Grečner brought the tradition of lyricized prose to life through a whole series of formal aesthetic techniques. Continue reading