Though he was very much a member of the community of filmmakers who graduated from FAMU and went on to shake things up during the sixties, Evald Schorm also stood apart from the rest. Like his fellow directors, he was using the medium to get at the absurdity of life in Communist Czechoslovakia, but Schorm was dedicated to a more direct, realistic type of filmmaking than his friends Věra Chytilová, Jan Němec, and Jiří Menzel, who readily turned to whimsy, fantasy, and comedy. Referred to as both the philosopher and the conscience of the New Wave, Schorm, whose relatively sober style has been called documentary-like (his focus at FAMU was nonfiction filmmaking) and received comparisons to that of Antonioni, explored themes of morality and the malaise of the socialist middle class (such income-based social strata did exist in Czechoslovakia), and preferred psychological portraiture.
Such individualist, existential works were anathema to the Communist Party, and Schorm’s first feature following his graduation in 1962, Everyday Courage (1964), about the crumbling life of an overzealously political young factory worker, was blacklisted by President Antonín Novotný. His next feature, after completing his more visually exploratory Pearls of the Deep short, “The House of Joy,” was Return of the Prodigal Son (1967), an exhilarating, angry film about an engineer, Jan (Jan Kacer), trying to find his way back into the world of the living after attempting suicide. Taking place both inside the mental hospital where he’s recuperating and outside in “normal” society, to which he routinely escapes, the film is a devastating articulation of depression brought on by vague, free-floating social anxieties and disappointments. In trying to readjust – to work, to friends, and most importantly to life with his similarly neurotic wife, Jana (Jana Brejchová), and very young daughter – Jan finds that to live happily in this world one has to negotiate daily with one’s morality; late in the film, when he visits his office during an extended leave from the hospital, his boss even lectures him on the importance of compromise.
There’s a humane core to Return of the Prodigal Son that saves it from despair. Rather than making everyone other than Jan a fool, Schorm extends enormous sympathy to a fascinating cast of supporting characters, all of them outcasts in their own way, including Jana, who combats her loneliness in Jan’s absence by taking a lover, Jiří (played by director Jiří Menzel); Olga (Dana Medrická), the sexually frustrated wife of the head doctor, who takes a liking to Jan; and Jan’s hospital roommate, Zdenek (Jiří Kilián), an effeminate ballet dancer with whom Jan feels an artistic and spiritual kinship.
Schorm never compromised his beliefs after the 1968 Soviet invasion; he refused to make films that acceded to the aesthetic and ideological demands of the cultural police who reinstituted the socialist realism of the Stalinist era (one script he rejected, for example, was a simplistic glorification of the life of a Communist activist). Because of this, he was not allowed to work in Czechoslovakian cinema for nearly twenty years, focusing instead on theater. In 1988, he died shortly before the premiere of his comeback film, Killing with Kindness, a story about a mother-daughter relationship that features Return of the Prodigal Son’s Kacer and Brejchová in prominent roles. – Michael Koresky, Criterion.com
1.33GB | 1 h 43 min | 714×535 | mkv