I watched 3 films from the Criterion Collection’s “Czech New Wave” movement series. They were all great. I seem to always have a more personal liking and resonance with Eastern European cinema than any of the “juggernaut West” countries like Italy/Germany/France/Spain. Easter European cinema seems so much more organic and unfiltered, also it is much more visually brilliant. Czech cinema is slowly starting to become my favorite European cinema.
Marketa Lazarová (dir. František Vláčil, 1968)
Most films depict the Medieval Times in an epic format, solely orchestrated via large scale battles, feuding of kings, romantic swooning of young knights for their fair maidens, and maybe an old wizard or two giving out free advice. Even the mythical portions of a story set in the Medieval era have classically been portrayed as some high-fantasy filled with dragons and magic potions. The Czechoslovak film Marketa Lazarová on the other hand, depicts the Medieval Times in a purely psychological sense. Yes, there are battles between armies and kings, yes there is fantasy and magic, but it is wholly consumed by the notions of human psychology… memories, death, religion, love, fear, and pain. Camera movement in Marketa is extremely important because thoughts of each character and their translation into action is best described via cinema’s own ‘artificial eye’. When the camera cuts from the characters face to a point of view shot, we start to get a deeper meaning of how he functions, what his demons are, and what obstacles he must overcome. This film is a masterpiece.
The Joke (dir. Jaromil Jireš, 1969)
One of the last pinnacle films of the Czech New Wave, it’s the story of a man who was kicked out of the Communist Party for making a joke about Trotsky and sent to a camp to help him learn the greatness of Communism. Years later, he attempts to get revenge on the guy who kicked him out of the party. It’s equal parts disturbing and equal parts humorous. The satire of the Communist Czech government is very apparent. I wasn’t as huge a fan of this movie as the others, but it certainly works as a personal plea to the world for how ridiculous the Communist regime of 60’s Czechoslovakia was.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders (dir. Jaromil Jireš, 1970)
This second film by Jaromil Jireš is a MASTERPIECE. It is one of the most amazing surrealist films I have ever seen. The movie is a young girl’s (Valerie) “coming of age” dream in which a phantom who transforms into a weasel makes a deal with Valerie’s grandmother to let her relive her younger years if he gets to keep Valerie for himself. He has a son named Eagle who is in love with Valerie. The rest of the movie moves between churches and gardens and the girl encounters young virgins making love for the first time, the phantom who changes into the form of her father, Eagle pops in a few times to save her from death etc. It’s really hard to explain anything in this movie (it’s a giant surreal dream/nightmare) but just watching it, with the atmosphere, lighting, music, costumes… everything engrosses you in and you feel like you’re drifting in the dream as well. It’s an experience unlike any other, and it’s one of the best films I have ever seen.