Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave
Of all the cinematic New Waves that broke over the world in the 1960s, the one in Czechoslovakia was among the most fruitful, fascinating, and radical. With a wicked sense of humor and a healthy streak of surrealism, a group of fearless directors—including eventual Oscar winners Miloš Forman and Ján Kadár—began to use film to speak out about the hypocrisy and absurdity of the Communist state. A defining work was the 1966 omnibus film Pearls of the Deep, which introduced five of the movement’s greatest voices: Věra Chytilová, Jaromil Jireš, Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, and Evald Schorm. This series presents that title, along with five other crucial works that followed close on its heels, one from each of those filmmakers—some dazzlingly experimental, some arrestingly realistic, all singular expressions from a remarkable time and place.
Collector’s set includesPearls of the Deep
A manifesto of sorts for the Czech New Wave, this five-part anthology shows off the breadth of expression offered by the movement’s versatile directors. All based on stories by the legendary writer Bohumil Hrabal, the shorts range from surreally chilling to caustically observant to casually romantic, but all have a cutting, wily view of the world.Daisies
Perhaps the New Wave’s most anarchic entry, Věra Chytilová’s absurdist farce follows the slapstick misadventures of two brash young women, known only as Marie I and Marie II. Believing the world to be “spoiled,” they decide to spoil themselves as well, and embark on a series of disorderly, prankish escapades in which nothing—food, clothes, men, war—is sacred. Daisies
is an aesthetically and politically adventurous film that’s widely considered one of the great works of feminist cinema.A Report on the Party and Guests
In Jan Němec’s surreal fable, the weekend countryside frolic of an ordinary group of men and women is rudely transformed into a lesson in political hierarchy when a handful of mysterious authority figures show up and begin to control their actions. This allegory about oppression and conformity was banned in its home country but became an international success after it premiered at the New York Film Festival.Return of the Prodigal Son
Evald Schorm was one of the most outspokenly political of the movement’s filmmakers. This raw psychological drama about an engineer unable to adjust to the world around him following a suicide attempt is at heart a scathing portrait of social alienation and moral compromise.Capricious Summer
Two years after his worldwide hit Closely Watched Trains
, Jiří Menzel directed this funny and reflective idyll about three middle-aged bourgeois men whose carefree summer, occupied by little more than fishing, drinking, and eating, is interrupted by the arrival of young traveling circus performers. Especially distracting is the beautiful magician’s assistant, Anna. A meditation on aging and sex, shot in warm, sun-dappled color, Capricious Summer
is one of the New Wave’s loveliest reveries.The Joke
Jaromil Jireš’s brilliantly fragmentary adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel jumps between the past and present to tell the Kafkaesque tale of Ludvik, a scientist who, in the 1950s, was expelled from the Communist Party when the authorities intercepted a postcard from him to his girlfriend that he’d intended as a political joke. After being sent for “rehabilitation” to the mines and doing a stint in a military prison, Ludvik hatches a revenge plot against the former friend who betrayed him. Completed after the Soviet invasion that ended the Prague Spring, The Joke
was banned, though it’s now acknowledged as one of the movement’s greatest works.