DVD Review – Czechoslovak New Wave, Volume II

A Blonde In Love

This box set includes Miloš Forman’s film A Blond in Love (1965), Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (1966) and Larks on a String (1969), directed by Jiří Menzel.

Forman’s early film is the most conventional piece in the set, somewhat similar to Truffaut’s work from the same period. It is about a young woman who has a one-night stand with a musician, and who then travels to Prague to pursue a longer romance. She visits him in his parents’ home, and as you might expect things do not go well. The film discusses how individuals as well as governments create their own positive spin on reality, as she returns to her crap job telling her friends what a lovely visit she’s had.

While not as daring as something like Daisies, it is quite a charming film, with a subtly critical subtext about Czech society. It has a more naturalistic, even documentary, feel as compared with some other Czech films from the same time period. It was one of the first films of the Czech New Wave to get a wide audience overseas, and like Bergman’s early films, when it arrived in the US some additional sex scenes were inserted for marketing purposes (this version is the correct edit, not the US version).

The Party and the Guests is from the director of Diamonds of the Night (a fantastically surreal war film: a mixture of Buñuel and Bresson.) This film, however, concerns a group of bourgeois friends out for a day in the country. While on a picnic they meet a group of mysterious authority figures, who impose a hierarchy on the group and make them all play roles in their strange game. The parallels with the precarious political situation in Czechoslovakia in the mid-60s are rather obvious, and unsurprisingly, it was banned. This film too has often been compared to Bunuel’s work, especially The Exterminating Angel. It is beautifully filmed, but overall it doesn’t work as well as some other films in using surrealism to attack totalitarianism. Going a bit further into strangeness might have served the director’s purposes better.

Menzel, best known for Closely Observed Trains (one of the few Czech films to ever win an Oscar) is represented here by Larks on a String. It is based on a story by Closely Observed Trains author Bohumil Hrabal, who is now considered a prime Czech author of the mid-20th century, alongside Jaroslav Hašek, the author of Good Soldier Švejk. Hrabel was the most adapted writer amongst Czech New Wave filmmakers.

Larks on a String, like other Czech films from this era, is a surreal comedy that pokes holes in the official version of reality. Several people suspected of lacking dedication to communism are ordered to work in a junkyard as a rehabilitation exercise. The plot revolves around interactions between these “volunteers” and others working in the junkyard, including a group of young women caught trying to escape to the West, the cook, and a camera crew making a newsreel about North Korea. Comic moments emerge as these people do their best to get one over on authority and live their lives. It was also rapidly banned, and so not seen in Czechoslovakia for decades. It is also perhaps the best of the set, a great mix of comedy and political commentary.

New digital transfers, restoration work, and some fantastic special features—including essays by author Peter Hames—give viewers extra reasons to buy this box set of films.

A Blond in Love [rating=4]
Comedy, Romance | Czech Rep, 1965 | 15 | Dir. Milos Forman | Hana Brejchová, Vladimír Pucholt, Vladimír Mensík
The Party and the Guests ★★1/2
Comedy, Drama | Czech Rep, 1966 | 15 | Dir.Jan Nemec | Ivan Vyskocil, Jan Klusák, Jiri Nemec
Larks on a String [rating=4]
comedy, Drama |Czech Rep, 1990 | 15 | Dir. Jirí Menzel | Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlastimil Brodský, Václav Neckár

Ian Schultz