The Czech and Slovak Film Festival is back for its sixth turn with a combination of classics and contemporary works.
This year is a bit of a treat for fans of Czechoslovak New Wave cinema (or movie lovers in general). The golden age of filmmaking from this part of the world begins in 1968 during the Prague Spring, with the work of anti-government dissenters fostered in films schools from Prague to Bratislava. Many of these directors went on to create seminal works which reverberated across the world, including Milos Forman, Vera Chytilova and Gustav Machaty.
The theme for this year, ‘Spring’, riffs on that idea, as well as being 25 years since Czech and Slovakia emerged as two nations, with their relationship being put on show through a celebration of their shared art and culture.
Here are Time Out’s highlights of the festival.
Classic political satire: The Firemen’s Ball (1967)
How could we start with anything else? The Fireman’s Ball was Milos Forman’s last film in the Czech Republic before leaving his home country and going on to direct Oscar winners Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in Hollywood. As a tribute to Forman, who died April this year, the festival is screening this comedy of errors, which depicts a firemen’s ball turned ill-conceived beauty pageant in a small town. The film has been read as a parable for the problems of bureaucracy, which the Communist government at the time took as a personal attack and gave it the status of ‘Banned Forever’. More than enough reason to go.
A study in excess: Daisies (1966)
Great Czech director Vera Chytilova tells the story of two young girls who decide to start ‘being bad’, burning through men and leading hedonistic life after eating from a fruit tree (the Biblical connotations are hard to miss). It doesn’t last for long though: as in the end of the film Chytilova breaks the fourth wall and appears to bring about a surprising end for the pair. It’s a classic of avant-garde cinema.
Feminist comedy: The Apple Game (1977)
The second film by Vera Chytilova on our list, this one is set in a maternity ward, centring on a womanising doctor and his idealistic and independent nurse, who, after discovering she is pregnant, decides to go it alone. The protagonist is played by Dagmar Bláhová, who emigrated to Australia and would go on to star in Neighbours in the 1980s.
A journey through time: The Hastrman (2018)
Opening night’s film is a contemporary offerings starring Karel Dobry (the original Mission: Impossible film) as a troubled human/water spirit who must make a tortured decision when he falls in love. The romantic fantasy thriller is based on the novel by Milos Urban.
A Slovak Pitch Perfect: Backstage (2018)
Director Andrea Sedláčková (Fair Play; Victims and Murderers) has created a coming-of-age film on class and youth anxieties, centering on a small group of street dancers from a small Slovakian town. When they enter a street dance competition on TV cracks start forming in the group and friendships are tested.
Hedy Lamarr’s debut film: Ecstasy (1933)
Famous as the first non-pornographic movie to feature nudity and a sex scene, this Czecho-Austrian film is also renowned as the debut picture of Hedy Kiesler, who would go on to Hollywood fame as Hedy Lamarr and was also an inventor whose work led to the invention of Wi-Fi. The story involves a woman who marries an older man and embarks on an affair with a virile young engineer.