top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (11/11/2021)

(An overview of the 25th Made in Prague Film Festival)

The Made in Prague Film Festival celebrates its silver anniversary between 7 November and 10 December, with a programme of classics and new releases that will screen in cinemas across the UK. Sponsored by the good people at the Czech Centre, the 25th line-up is led by David Ondrícek's Zátopek, a biopic of the fabled distance runner that will be the Czech Republic's entry for the Best International Film category at the 94th Academy Awards. There's also another chance to see Slávek Horák's Havel, which formed part of the 2020 slate, as well as Bohdan Sláma's Shadow Country, which debuted at last year's London Film Festival.

Also on offer are Jan Haluza's Diary of a Modern Dad, Barbora Chalupová's Caught in the Net and Michaela Pavlátová My Sunny Maad. A pair of documentaries complete the list of new titles: Katerina Hager and Asad Farugi's A Marriage and Erika Hnikova's Every Single Minute. But there's also a chance to relive some glories of the past, as a restored print of Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy (1933) will be showing at The Barbican, while František Vlácil's Marketa Lazarová (1967), Vojtech Jasný's All My Good Countrymen (1969) and Jirí Menzel's Cutting It Short (1980) will be available nationwide via the BFI Player.


Three decades have now passed since the Velvet Revolution and writer-director Slávek Horák places the spotlight on one of its key players in Havel. This biopic takes its share of factual liberties and those seeking a considered historical analysis should seek out Miroslav Janek and Pavel Koutecky's documentary, Citizen Havel (2008). But, in seeking to show how playwright Václav Havel reacted to events within Czechoslovakia in the crucial years of 1968, 1976 and 1989, this represents a decent place to start.

Having smuggled a BBC interviewer (David Penn) to his Hrádecek country retreat in the boot of his car, Václav Havel (Viktor Dvorák) explains that he is a coward by nature, who has been forced to act by an aversion to the clamminess he feels on his skin whenever he knows he is not doing his duty. He thinks back to 1968, when he and fellow writer Pavel Kohout (Stanislav Majer) welcomed reforming First Secretary Alexander Dubcek (Adrian Jastraban) on to the stage after spotting him in the audience at one of his plays. Dubcek is embarrassed by the attention and chides Havel for putting him on a pedestal, but film actor Pavel Landovský (Martin Hofmann) urges his friend to forget the reprimand and go partying with him.

Despite his serial infidelities, Havel is devoted to wife Olga Havlová (Anna Geislerová) and she stands by his decision to refuse to sign a document proffered by the manager of the Theatre of the Absurd to condone the Warsaw Pact occupation of Prague in August. Forced to work during Normalisation at the Krakonoš brewery in Trutnov, Havel writes a play about his experiences that is circulated by samizdat, as he was barred from the stage. Following the trial of the psychedelic rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe, he joins forces with Kohout, Landovský and philosopher Jan Patocka (Jirí Bartoska) to draft Charter 77, a manifesto calling for the upholding of the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution that is immediately denounced as subversive by the ruling Communist Party.

Even though her husband is having an affair with Anna Kohoutová (Barbora Seidlová), Olga stands by him when he is arrested and subjected to several months of interrogation (by Jan Kolarík). She is dismayed by his capitulation, but continues to visit after he is jailed again for forming the Committee For the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted and rejects the Czechoslovak government's offer to start afresh in the United States. Indeed, he spends four years behind bars, while Kahout flees to Vienna.

Having come close to death because of his maltreatment, Havel emerges in 1983 to virtual house arrest. Six years later, however, when he hears news on the radio of the street protests in Prague, he drives to the capital to play his part. As Dubcek had refused to collaborate on Charter 77, Havel feels this disqualifies him from putting his name forward for the presidency and the film ends with him taking Olga's hand on the balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square, as he prepares to speak to the massed throng.

Although he overdoes the device of turning pivotal events into scenes on stage, Horák handles some complex issues with assurance and succeeds in exposing some of Havel's flaws without undermining his intellectual integrity and moral authority. He's abetted here by the excellent Viktor Dvorák, who bears a striking facial resemblance to his character. Anna Geislerová also stands out as Olga, who bears her indignities through a cloud of cigarette smoke, as she states her preference to be her husband's only lady rather than his First Lady.

Jan Stastný's camerawork keeps the viewer at the heart of events and close enough to Havel to read his thoughts, while Petr Malásek's score provides stirring accompaniment. But the key craft contribution is Vladimir Hruska's production design, as the action switches between the prosceniums and prisons that shaped Havel's destiny. What Horák and co-scenarist Rudolf Suchánek recognise is that this self-effacing artist was stung by his conscience into realising that his pen isn't always mightier than the sword and that he needed to take sacrificial action in order to make things change. Their thesis isn't always convincing and contains its share of suppositions and platitudes. Yet this serves as a timely reminder of what the Czech Republic owes to its first president.


The travails of the village of Tušt are revisited in fictional form in Bohdan Sláma's Shadow Country. Echoes of one of the most famous Czech films ever made, Vojtech Jasný's scorching satire, All My Good Countrymen (1969), can be heard throughout this monochrome saga, which takes place over two decades on the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria. However, there's also a feel of Edgar Reitz's Heimat (1984) in Ivan Arsenjev's engrossing screenplay, which raises issues that remain depressing current today.

Once part of the Kingdom of Bohemia, the border country of Vitoraszko spent 600 years under Hapsburg rule, In 1920, however, it was annexed by Czechoslovakia. Despite speaking Czech, some locals attended Austrian schools. But many lost their jobs and were denied subsidies for their fields. Families were torn, although the Austrians regained the ascendancy following the Anschluss of 1938, which saw the country subsumed by the Third Reich. For the moment, however, the village of Schwarzwald remained in Czech hands. But many locals wondered, `Who are we and where do we belong?'

There seems to be a sense of unity as Karel Veber (Stanislav Majer) presents wife Marie (Magdaléna Borová) with a new sewing table at the christening of their son. Everyone dances to music with a klezmer feel, but trouble breaks out during a screening of Georgi and Sergei Vasilyev's Chapayev (1934), which Arnost Stein (Pavel Nový) denounces as Communist propaganda.

He is also outraged when Anna Svitková (Petra Spalková) produces swastikas and invites their neighbours to sign a petition to join Germany. Karel feels bound to back the move because Anna is his sister. Moreover, he has fallen on hard times since the Czechs took over and joins Anna in handing over the signatures at the border. However, his seamstress spouse thinks they should leave the village.

Having married Arnost's daughter, Elen (Anezka Kubátová), Josef Pachl (Csongor Kassai) is also becoming increasingly concerned by the tide of events, especially when his father-in-law takes a stick to Otto Kaizinger (Robert Miklus) when he offers to buy the shop to prevent it being confiscated by the Nazis.

Following the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Leopold Winklhofer (Cyril Drozda) replaces Jaroslav Mares (Marek Pospíchal) as mayor. He seems unconcerned by graffiti denouncing `Czech scum' and has little sympathy for Elen, when she complains of intimidation. Marie is appalled by the scuffles on the square and defies Karel when he urges her to come away. But a Nazi delegation receives a warm welcome at Anna's tavern, with Marta Lisková (Barbora Poláková) being particularly enthusiastic.

Václav Bláha (Tomás Jerábek) also forces son Franta (Miloslav Pechácek) to show his excitement, as he deems it important to stay well in with the new masters. Even Arnost presents himself in his firefighter's uniform. But Josef feels it's important to stand up to the interlopers and he strides into the pub, only to be tarred and feathered by Zwettler (Jirí Cerný) and his gang. Anna and Karel are dismayed by the affront and untie Josef and demand to know who attacked him.

Marie is disappointed with Karel for putting land access before human decency and has herself registered as Czech rather than Austrian. The likes of Jindrich Winklhofer (Michael Goldschmid) and Rudy Svitek (Adam Langer) are shipped out of Schwarzwald to join the army and the camera roves round to show that only older men, women and children now remain.

Josef is sufficiently frightened to buy a gun, but Anna is delighted with the way things are turning out and is so turned on by the sight of Alois Bednár (Ondrej Malý). But she is disgusted by a man who returns to the village having declared himself to be a Czech and he hopes to lay low during the war that he feels is inevitably coming.

By 1942, Josef is fighting with the resistance. But the mayor keeps getting complaints about him and he tells Arnost that he will find it hard to protect him and his ailing wife (Hana Frejková) because anti-Semitic sentiments are spreading. But Marie admires his courage and makes a donation to the fund for the families of detainees when she takes her son to the puppet show given by Jaroslav. Soon afterwards, however, he is arrested by the Gestapo, and promises Elen and daughter Zdena (Denisa Baresová) that he will come home safely.

Jindrich does return, but he has lost half a leg while fighting the Poles and his father is ashamed of him for being a flawed hero. Václav is also having a rough time, as his last cow has died and he's not entitled to any help as a Czech. Shortly afterwards, Franta is arrested for robbery and rape and he asks Leopold if he can join the Party and inform on his neighbours in return for some investment. Marta mocks him for not being German and he stomps out of the pub after toasting his neighbours.

The square is almost deserted, however, when the Steins are loaded on to a cart and taken away. Arnost reassures his wife, who is suffering from dementia, that everything will be okay, as she tries to turn back towards the shop. Elen joins them and Zdena kisses her tenderly, but calls after her in anguish as the cart trundles away.

Anna hears that Rudy has been killed in 1944 and she hurls stones through the window of the Nazi headquarters. Karel shepherds her away and she is consoled by her friends. Only Jaroslav keeps an eye on Zdena, however, as Leopold and a Nazi assessor go through her family possessions. The mayor asks if it would be possible to buy the house on the cheap and Jaroslav slaps him for his opportunism. He is also aghast that Leopold has withheld the news that the Steins are already dead and asks him how he will face people after the war with so much guilt on his conscience.

A cold wind greets Josef, as he returns to Schwarzwald from Terezin in 1945. Zwettler gives him a lift in a motorbike and sidecar flying the Czech flag and he is welcomed by those drinking quietly in the pub, as it undergoes a major refurbishment to remove all traces of its Nazi associations. He goes to the town hall, where Leopold and Jaroslav and announces that he has been appointed District Security Secretary.

In that capacity, he delivers a proclamation from President Klement Gottwald that anyone found guilty before a court of collaborating with the Nazis will be punished accordingly. That night, he calls on Leopold to demand the return of the Stein furniture. But the former mayor stands firm and blames Josef for putting his family in danger by siding with the partisans.

While everyone celebrates peace with a dance in the square, Karel is worried that Josef will use his new power to settle old scores. Marie reassures him that he has done nothing wrong, but he is nervous as Josef joins Jaroslav in the pub to compile a list of traitors. Bedrich Kotrba (Ladislav Dusek) urges him not to go too far,

Within days, however, Franta is leading squads of rounding up suspects for Josef to send for trial. Among them are Karel and Anna and Jaroslav is powerless to stop them because the orders have come from Prague. As she had been so actively pro-Nazi, Marta is repeatedly raped and has her head shaved before she is tossed into a barn to await her trial. Anna pleads with Josef to get a doctor, but he is in no mood for mercy.

A truck arrives carrying soldiers and Colonel Kreps (Marek Taclík) informs Jaroslav that he has come to execute necessary security measures. They order all the Austrians to leave the village and give them only a few minutes to pack their belongings. Marie struggles with a baby and her young son, Karlik (Tobias Smigura), and Zdena is told to stand back when she tries to say goodbye. She rushes to plead with her father, but he says they were asking for it and takes to his bed.

Back in the barn, the guard takes pity on Eva (Ági Gubík) and tells her to go home. She arrives to find people walking away with her belongings and her husband, Alois, hanging from a noose in the bedroom. Nearby, Ruzena Kotrbová (Zuzana Krónerová) ventures into Marie's house to find Franta and Václav taking her sewing table. Jaroslav tries to stop them, but is pushed aside. Ruzena sneaks inside to retrieve some cups and saucers and beetles away.

While Marie and her fellow refugees are informed that the Austrian border villages are full, Otto taunts the prisoners in the cellar by ordering them to sing. While they wreak their revenge, Kreps orders Josef and Jaroslav to find the Nazis guilty so he can execute them and leave. Zdena is shocked that her father could stoop so low. Bedrich is forced into representing the villagers on the judging panel, but he refuses to sign the warrant. Jaroslav also walks out before the sentence is pronounced.

Zwettler takes great pleasure in watching Karel dig the mass grave and looks on gloatingly, as Franta takes aim. Marta shouts, `Heil Hitler! Heil Christ!', as she is gunned down, as Josef remembers the promises he made to avenge the innocents who had been slaughtered in the camps.

Marie finds herself in a makeshift shelter with Jindrich and his mother, Emile (Marie Ludvíková). During mass one snowy Sunday, Jaroslav comes to apologise, but she turns away from him and he leaves in despair. After a time, an official letter orders Marie to return to Schwarzwald, with her children and Babicka Veberová (Bozena Fucíková). She sees her sewing machine amongst a pile of bric-a-brac in a barn before being driven away by Václav and Franta, who call her `trash'.

Refusing to allow Josef to lord it over her, Marie heads home, only to collapse at the scene of wanton destruction. She has to ask Josef for some furniture and he allows her a small piece of land to grow vegetables (because he is refusing her food stamps). Zdena is happy to help her carry a table home from the store and Marie accepts the cups back from Ruzena, who apologises for taking them.

Marie asks Eva to sign a petition to give the dead Austrians a proper burial. She is too afraid to commit her name, as everyone is spying on each other and innocent actions can be twisted. Despite Zdena's reproachful stare, Josef refuses to give permission and cites the millions of Jews and Red Army soldiers who had to settle for mass graves. Undaunted, Marie ploughs her plot and leaves the likes of Václav to the bad dreams that cause him to wet himself in the night.

The tables start to turn in 1947, when a government inspector (Lubos Veselý) comes to accuse Josef of executing the Austrians without tangible evidence. When he blames Anna for Elen being sent to the camps, the inspector blames Josef's own reckless resistance work for bringing her to the Gestapo's attention. He also reveals that not a single charge was brough by the residents of Schwarzwald against their neighbours during the war. Zdena pokes her head around the door in time to hear her father denounced as a prison informant, who had attempted to commit suicide. Despite his protests, he is stripped of his title and his problems mount when Franta threatens to snitch on him unless he gives him a cover story. As he wonders what to do, Zdena declares that she is ashamed of him and leaves home.

Five years later, just as Marie has made her land fruitful, an order comes to move her family into the interior. The survivors from 14 years ago gather to watch her leave and sneer at Josef, who simply wants to be left alone. As they pass the grave of Karel and the others, Marie leaves the crucifix from the house and climbs back aboard the truck carrying her possessions without a backward glance.

The secret to pulling off a film as narratively complex and densely populated as this one is to establish the key characters and their relationship to one another as early as possible. Domestic audiences will be abetted by the accents of the Czech and Austrian cabals. But outsiders will find themselves flailing for the first 20 minutes, as they get to know the layout of Schwarzwald and work out its tangled web of alliances. Once things become more familiar, however, as was the case with Václav Marhoul's The Painted Bird (2019) and Agnieszka Holland's Charlatan (2020), it's impossible not to sucked into the shifting power games, as the residents are buffeted by the brutal realities that come with each change of regime.

Sláma has already demonstrated his insight into tightly knit communities and the rural mentality in The Wild Bees (2001) and Something Like Happiness (2005). But shooting in his own village keens his perception. Thus, in admirably refusing to judge, he and Arsenjev are able to assess the actions of those both in authority and in thrall with a dispassion that is tempered by the intimacy of Diviš Marek's camerawork, as he frequently films in long takes with deep focus. He ably captures the bleakness of the surrounding countryside. But, as so much depends on domiciles and possessions, Jan Novotný's production design proves even more pivotal, as everything from Marie's sewing machine to the pub's roll-on swastika wall-covering has its telling significance.

Magdaléna Borová and Csongor Kassai have been singled out from the ensemble. But there isn't a false note in any performance or in Jakub Kudlác's score, which adeptly counterpoints the cultural fluctuations that retain their relevance in our own times, as the ramifications of the dismantling of the Soviet bloc continue to complicate the issues thrown up by the migrant crisis.


From the moment they got married, Michal and Lenka Hanuliak were determined to raise their child according to the Kamevéda method that had turned Pavel Zacha into an ice hockey star. In Every Single Minute, documentarist Erika Hnikova keeps a discreet distance to see how the Hanuliaks rear their son, Miško, who has been taking instruction since he was in the womb.

One Monday in May, Miško practices German pronunciation over his cereal before trying to do a pull-up on the bar fitted in his bedroom. After breaking his record for bouncing a basketball, the three year-old watches Zacha playing the National Hockey League on YouTube to see the benefits that await if he fulfils his potential. While he has a nap, Michal and Lenka Skype with Pavel Zacha, Sr., the founder of Kamevéda to ask his advice on pull-up techniques. Following a speed-skating session at the ice rink (which Miško thoroughly enjoys, as he likes beating his parents), he is allowed some constructive play before supper and bed. While Lenka cleans, Michal watches online footage of a super-skating four year-old and wonders if Miško can ever be this good.

Hnikova next catches up with the Hanuliaks on a Sunday in August to celebrate Miško's fourth birthday with the wider family. Michal's wheelchair-bound mother comments on how easier it must be for Lenka being a homemaker because her husband is a successful banker. However, both put in the hours with their boy, who speaks to his mother in German and his father in Czech. While a bored cousin looks on, Miško sings `Let Me Know' in English and the assembled applaud with the odd quizzical smile among the beaming grins. Even after a long day, Lenka returns to mop the gleaming kitchen floor, while Michal reads on the sofa. Their conversation is entirely about their son and there appears little affection to spare for each other after a day lavishing praise on their prince.

On a Tuesday later that month, Lenka takes Miško to a BMX run to practice his cycling skills. She shows the video to Michal and isn't amused when he criticises her coaching while cooking his lunch. After a tennis session, however, she gets her own back by complaining that Michal throws the balls too slowly for Miško to perfect his forehand. Harmony returns back at the apartment, as Miško receives a Kamevéda star for racking up 50km in the saddle and a flashing siren as a reward for his efforts. He grins as his new prize goes off when he scores an indoor ice hockey goal and Lenka purrs with pride.

By the time we reach a Wednesday in September, the family is on holiday and attracting some peculiar looks as Michal and Lenka cheer Miško on while he runs shuttles on a crowded beach. Even in the hotel room, he is kept busy kicking balls and doing pull-ups. So, when he falls on a tennis court doing exercises with his father, he takes the opportunity to cry over the pain in his knee and insist that his mother takes over for some gentler stretches. But Michal has the last word, as he suggests some trapeze work while Miško is brushing his teeth for bed. As the pair chill with a glass of wine, the atmosphere feels frosty, as they must be exhausted as this is Parenting 24/7, as they are planning future activities as the child sleeps.

When Hnikova revisits on a Thursday in January, Miško sets a new time for running up the steep flight of steps on the outskirts of town. He then shows Lenka's mother how many pull-ups he can do and she watches with muted enthusiasm as her daughter shows off videos of the boy skiing and playing the piano. When grandma uses the word `command' in relation to Miško's activities, Lenka bridles, as she resents the suggestion that she is coercing her son in any way. Her parents laugh when Miško turns down chocolate treats and says they are `yucky', while carrots are `yummy'. But they don't miss the chance to ask Lenka when she's going to have another baby, as it would be nice to have a female figure skater in the family. However, she replies that training Miško leaves little spare time.

Miško eavesdrops on the conversation about siblings on the way to skating practice. That night, Lenka seeks Zavach's advice and he concedes that two kids will be challenging. But he explains that second children are often faster learners and can engender a competitive spirit. As her first pregnancy had been difficult, Lenka feels both broody and apprehensive. As she cleans, however, Michal ponders positively about the prospect of a larger family.

Michal has a busy day at the office on the Friday in March when everyone reconvenes. Miško spots a homeless man rooting through the bin and Lenka informs him that he is in such a sorry state because he didn't train hard and make the most of himself. She's frustrated with him, therefore, when he doesn't commit to his basketball dribbling. But, even though she's not feeling well, she takes him BMXing and lets him do some chin-ups before bed. Michal calls to apologise for working late and promises things between them will improve after the recent sticky patch.

A final visitation one Saturday in June sees the family head off to the Kamevéda Games. Everyone seems in high spirits and Miško revels in being better than everyone in his age category. Having won the sprint and performed well with his basketball, he does 13 pull-ups when other kids are struggling to do one. A couple look over enviously at the devotion and support he gets from his parents, who dotes as their little winner gets interviewed about the car track he hopes to get as a reward. Borne on Michal's shoulders, he joins in with Lenka's song of celebration, as everyone seems back on the same page.

If ever a film is going to provoke post-screening debate it will be this astutely made study of Miško Hanuliak pre-schooldays. Keeping Šimon Dvorácek and Lukáš Milota's mostly static cameras at a non-distracting distance, Hníková leaves viewers to reach their own conclusions about Michal and Lenka's parenting, the merits (or otherwise) of the Kamevéda system, and how and why Miško responds to a regimen of endless betterment.

At times, it seems as though it's less stressful on him than it is on his folks. But, by denying access to their non-Miško time, Hníková prevents the audience from getting a handle on the Hanuliaks as individuals and as a couple. Indeed, with the exception of the discussions about a second baby and Michal's workload, they don't talk about anything other than Miško throughout. Nor do we see him interacting with anyone other than family members. Oh to have been a fly on the wall on his first day at school.


Having already sent ripples with his provocatively titled silent, Erotikon (1929), Czech director Gustav Machatý caused global outrage with Ecstasy (1933), which not only depicted its teenage heroine naked, but also caught her at the moment of orgasm. At a time when the very notion of female sexual pleasure was still taboo, Machatý succeeded in shocking audiences in Czech, German and French - the languages spoken in the three versions he made of the film at a time when cinematic sound was still a novelty and subtitles were regarded as an intrusive inconvenience in a way in which silent era intertitles rarely had.

On the night of her wedding to Emil Hermann (Zvonimir Rogoz), Eva (Hedy Kiesler) is concerned by the difficulty her new husband has inserting the key in the lock to their honeymoon suite. However, she is dismayed by his indifference towards her after he snags his finger on the catch of her pearls and skulks off to sleep alone. The next day, he hides behind the newspaper on the Barradov Terrace and Eva realises that Emil has no intention of consummating their match.

Eventually, she returns to the estate of her father (Leopold Kramer), a horse breeder who supports her petition for a divorce. One day, while out riding, Eva cannot resist the temptation of the lake and leaves her outfit on the back of her mount, while she swims naked. Distracted by a stallion in a nearby pen, the mare wanders off and Eva gives chase in order to retrieve her clothing.

Her plight is spotted by Adam (Aribert Mog), an engineer working on a new highway, who charges after the beast and brings it back to Eva, who is covering her modesty in some bushes. He urges her not to be ashamed of her nudity and tends to her injured ankle. Initially, Eva resists Adam's kindness, but she soon relents and they chat innocently, as they sit in the sunshine.

That night, Eva cannot get Adam out of her head. As the wind blows outside, her emotions simmer and she ventures into the darkness. He is surprised to see her on the doorstep of his isolated cabin, but welcomes her inside. After fighting shy, Eva surrenders to Adam's embrace and barely notices her necklace break in the throes of passion. She leaves it behind next morning, but agrees to meet Adam in town after work.

On arriving home, Eva is taken aback by Emil's request for a reconciliation. Devastated by her refusal, he drives through the roadworks and accepts some guidance from Adam. Grateful, he agrees to run the stranger into town and is crushed when he sees him toying with Eva's broken pearls. Maddened by jealousy, Emil considers crashing into a train at a level crossing. But he recovers his composure and drops Adam at the hotel where he is due to meet Eva.

While the lovers enjoy their reunion, Emil sits in his room and watches a trapped insect avoiding a strip of fly paper, as it tries to get out of a closed window. Driven to despair, he shoots himself and Eva keeps her connection secret, as she feels guilty for having caused Emil such pain.

She had planned to catch the night express to Berlin with Adam. But she convinces herself that she can only bring him unhappiness. So, while he dozes on a bench on the platform, Eva takes another train and Adam is left to return to his job, although he still daydreams that Eva is out there somewhere nursing his child.

In her memoirs, Hedy Lamarr (as Hedy Kiesler had been renamed by MGM chief Louis B. Mayer) claimed that Machatý had tricked her into shooting the infamous nude scenes and had misled her about the lenses he would use. However, actresses Lupita Tovar and Adina Mandlová recall turning down the part of Eva because of their reluctance to disrobe. Whatever the truth of the matter, the sequence made the film a cause célèbre after Pope Pius XII banned it following the coverage of the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano.

Faced with the condemnation of the Catholic Legion of Decency. Hollywood Production Code chief Joseph Breen withheld the certificate that would have guaranteed a nationwide release. But Ecstasy was seen on the arthouse circuit and created enough stir for Lamarr's first husband, Friedrich Mandl, to launch a bid to buy and destroy every known copy.

Made in Prague is showing a newly restored print with a new overture by Anna Vöröšová. This draws on the score composed by Giuseppe Becce, which heightens the emotions generated by Kiesler and Aribert Mog. But the brilliance comes from Machatý's use of Jan Stallach's camera, as it picks up symbolic details while languidly gliding through Bohumil Hes's sets. Editor Antonin Zelenka also constructs montages that highlight the significance of the fumbled key, the heaving horse flesh and the naked statuary. He's at his most subtle during the love scene, however, as he cuts between the close-ups that meant Kiesler became the first actress in screen history to simulate orgasm in a non-pornographic film.

As Alexandra Dean revealed in Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017), Kiesler/Lamarr was a remarkable woman who deserves to be remembered for much more than her acting. But the brief glimpses of her naked torso would not alone have resulted in this early talkie being regarded as a classic 88 years later. Machatý would also gravitate towards Hollywood, where he would work uncredited on films like Sidney Franklin's The Good Earth (1937), which earned an Oscar for Kiesler's Austrian compatriot, Luise Rainer. However, he was only entrusted with a couple of B pictures, Within the Law (1939) and Jealousy (1945), before his career closed in West Germany with Suchkind 312 (1955).


Shades of Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa inform František Vlácil's Marketa Lazarová (1967), an adaptation of Vladislav Vancura's 1931 novel that was voted the best Czech film of all time in 1998. Brutal, complex and intense, this is a compelling melodrama, whose recreation of the sights and sounds of the medieval world surpasses that of any picture made to date.

In 13th-century Bohemia, the clans of Kozlik (Josef Kemr) and Lazar (Michal Kozuch) thrive by ambushing Saxon noblemen. However, when Kozlik's sons Mikolás (Frantisek Velecký) and the one-handed Adam (Ivan Palúch) attack a coach carrying Christián (Vlastimil Harapes) - who is not only the son of Count Christián (Harry Studt), but also the nominated Bishop of Hennau - the king dispatches Captain Beer (Zdenek Kryzánek) to punish them. Kozlik is prepared to stand his corner, but Lazar betrays him and Mikolás exacts his revenge by kidnapping and raping his daughter, Marketa (Magda Vásáryová), who had hoped to enter the nearby convent. The feud culminates in a woodland showdown. But Vlácil refuses to reveal its result.

Dividing the action into two parts - `Straba' and `The Lamb of God', which are further partitioned into 12 chapters - Vlácil makes few compromises with this imposing saga. Cinematographer Bedrich Batka sets the tone with the bleak Bruegelseque opening views of a snow-covered forest through which a pack of wolves scurries away from a hunting party. Indeed, even when the spring thaw gives way to a dazzling summer, the setting remains forbidding and an oppressive mood of savagery continues to pervade proceedings, being strikingly reinforced by the contrast between Marketa's piety and the naked pagan rituals practised at the foot of a gnarled tree by Mikolás's free-spirited sister, Alexandria (Pavla Polaskova).

Complemented by František Fabián's natural sound design and Zdenek Liška's astonishing percussive-cum-choral score, Vlácil's control of the natural environment and Oldrich Okác's unhospitable interiors prevents this seeming like a procession of historico-realist tableaux. But it takes concentration to follow the array of dream sequences, flashbacks and quasi-ecstatic hallucinations that punctuate action that is often populated by indistinguishable characters uttering enigmatic dialogue.

Yet this is never anything less than mesmerising, whether Vlácil is focusing on the details of everyday existence (the film was the product of several years of research and the cast were coaxed into living a period lifestyle to identify more readily with their characters) or the bestial brutality of survival (such as Kozlik's tussle with a ravenous wolf and his slaughter of a captured stallion, which contrasts markedly with the nuns releasing doves into the air and Marketa's respectful forest encounter with a stag).


Initially conceived in the early 1950s, but `banned forever' after the suppression of the Prague Spring, All My Good Countrymen (1969) earned Vojtech Jasný the Best Director prize at Cannes for its bleakly comic, 10-part chronicle of events in the Moravian village of Bystre between the spring of 1945 and the winter of 1958.

Typifying the tone of the action is the nonchalant discovery of an unexploded German mine in his field by farmer František (Radoslav Brzobohatý). His neighbours help him detonate the device and, while the children continue playing with guns in blissful ignorance, the adults repair to the local hostelry for a night of revels that ends with an idyllic sunrise.

Three years later, however, the rise of the Communist Party throws Bystre into turmoil. On a grim February day, František works doggedly as Stalinist propaganda booms around the village through loudspeakers. Rationing has been introduced and there is little respect for postman Bertin (Pavel Pavlovský), church organist Ocenás (Vlastimil Brodský), Zejvala (Václav Lohniský) and photographer Plecmera (Ilja Prachar), who have become enthusiastic apparatchiks. They demand that Zásinek (Waldemar Matuska) vacates his land so that they can set up a collective farm, while Lampa (Václav Babka) loses the tailor's shop into which he had his invested his life savings.

The following year, Bertin is shot prior to his wedding to Widow Machacová (Drahomira Hofmanová). The police arrest a number of scapegoats, including the local priest and František leads a demonstration to force their release. However, Ocenáš is so unnerved by the death threats he receives that he flees the village and Plecmera's wife badgers him into stepping into his shoes on the committee, as she fancies a new house and being able to laud it over her once-derisory neighbours.

At the start of 1951, Zášinek is visited by the ghost of the Jewish wife (Marie Málková) he had divorced during the German occupation. She had perished in a concentration camp and her spirit follows Zášinek to an afternoon tea dance and he is driven mad with guilt when she follows him on to the dance floor. Attending the same event are Machacová and her new beau, Jorka the thief (Vladimír Mensík). He has been ordered to turn himself in at the nearby jail. But, having returned a stolen clock to its owner, he dies with goose feathers falling upon him having poured acid on his foot.

Later in the same year, Zášinek has started keeping company with Machacová. He tries to confess to relieve the burden and joins his neighbours at the inn, where they are painted by Frajz (Josef Hlinomaz). As the drink flows, the images on the canvas start to shift and Zášinek appears as a demon holding a skull. He stumbles home at first light, only to be gored by a bull and die.

By 1952, the Party hierarchy feel sufficiently secure in their roles to propose an increase in their budget. Speaking for the community, František accuses the leaders of feathering their own nests and he is arrested. The policeman (Oldrich Velen) tries to coerce his fellow villagers into testifying against František and they only co-operate when they are threatened with punishment unless they condemn him.

As the Communist bigwigs start to turn on each other, František escapes from prison and returns to Bystre at death's door. Sheltered by his friends, he is allowed to reintegrate and acquires a horse in order to make a living.

Since seizing power, the Communists have been determined to break František and his wife (Vera Galatíková) for resisting their takeover. In 1957, they try to trap him by placing him in charge of a policy to declare the size of harvests. But, while the other peasants are cowed into colluding, František refuses to sign up to the scheme. The following year, he is installed in Zásinek's neglected farmhouse and appointed head of the collective. Realising that he can shape events, he agrees to collaborate and is in good spirits when his carriage is surrounded by villagers wearing carnival masks. The revellers flag down Plecmera's car and he is pulled out of the driving seat to join the fun. Unfortunately, however, he suffers a heart attack and collapses in the snow.

Now blind, Plecmera lives along because his ambitious wife has deserted him. Ocenáš seeks him out on skulking back into the village in 1968. He reveals that František has died and laments that Bystre is now in the hands of ne'er-do-wells who exploit power for their own ends. He pays a visit to the farmer's musician daughter, who continues his resistance to the regime and warns Ocenáš that tyranny will be toppled when the workers in the field refind their voices. Having hinted at changes afoot in the capital, Ocenáš cycles away wondering whether his compatriots have been cruelly subjugated or have brought their misery upon themselves.

Drawn from Jasný's own recollections of country life in the decade after the Second World War, this masterwork of socio-political subversion is played with disarming charm and psychological veracity by an excellent ensemble and exquisitely photographed by Jaroslav Kucera. Shifting deftly between realist drama and surreal satire, Jasný holds up a mirror to his audience in the bitter knowledge that many will recognise themselves among his characters, whether they are cynical fellow travellers, weak capitulators or heroic resistors.

Lamenting the demise of dignity that inevitably follows the crushing of truth, Jasný particularly despises the ethos of enrichment through egalitarianism practiced by the elite. But he offers hope in the repeated views of the landscape, which goes through its seasonal changes regardless of the prevailing political creeds that almost inevitably turn to dust over time.

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (22/3/2024)

(An overview of the 38th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival) Screening 57 features and 81 shorts from 41 countries, the 38th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival is a timely celeb

Parky At the Pictures (15/3/2024)

(Reviews from the Donne di Mafia Film Festival) CinemaItaliaUK is holding its annual Donne di Mafia Mini Film Festival, with screenings in London and Bath. There are three films on view: Francesco Ros

Parky At the Pictures (1/7/2023)

(An overview of the 8th Safar Film Festival) The Safar Film Festival was founded by the Arab British Centre. It's the UK's largest event dedicated to Arab cinema and the 8th edition offers a journey t


bottom of page