Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Czechoslovak New Wave

The Czechoslovak New Wave

When most film buffs hear the term "New Wave", they probably think about Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, and Chabrol.  However in the mid to late 1960's, just a few years after their counterparts in France, another film movement emerged, led by names such as Miloš Forman, Věra Chytilová, Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Jaromil Jireš, Juraj Herz, Juraj Jakubisko, Štefan Uher, among others.  This group of Czech and Slovak directors combined to produce a new genre of film internationally known as The Czechoslovak New Wave.

Loves of a Blonde (1965), Milos Forman
Although most of these filmmakers were already experienced directors, something special happened in the period between 1964 and 1965 where they all combined to produce an amazing catalog of work of unprecedented success on the international stage.  Including four straight Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, which resulted in two wins, the first in 1965 for The Shop on Main Street and the second in 1967 for Closely Watched Trains.

This New Wave was characterized by its innovative use of unconventional free-form narrative techniques, often using dark and absurd humour; the casting of non-professional actors, and clever critical political messages.  This was all made possible by the relaxation and liberalization of the political climate of the time.  Unfortunately this movement was rather short lived, coming to an end soon after the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia in late 1968.

Intimate Lighting (1965), Ivan Passer
However, the result of this brief social and artistic awakening has left us with some of the best examples of cinema not only limited to Eastern Europe, but of the entire world.  Although less celebrated than their French counterparts, the films of the Czechoslovak New Wave stand up just as magnificently and leave behind a legacy of remarkable quality and influence that is still relevant today.  It is also responsible for the beginnings of master director Milos Forman, who would later win the Best Director Oscar twice for his American films One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Amadeus.

The most wonderful aspect I have observed so far from the films of the Czech New Wave, is the often witty and humorous yet genuine way in which the characters, the stories, and everyday life is presented.  There is a tendency to focus on the little ironies of life that are timeless and universal, giving us the opportunity to reflect not only on these profoundly touching stories, but also on our own lives.

Coach to Vienna (1966), Karel Kachyňa
Join me over the next few months, in my ever ongoing quest for the hidden gems of cinema, as I watch and review as many of the incredible films from this era as possible.  Afterwards, I will also be showcasing some of the later and current works from the countries now known as The Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

The Shop on Main Street (1965), Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos

The Czech/Slovak New Wave:

A Bagful of Fleas • Pytel blech (1962)Věra Chytilová
Death is Called Engelchen • Smrt si říká Engelchen (1963)Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos
The Jester's Tale • Bláznova kronika (1964)Karel Zeman
The Junk Shop • Sběrné surovosti (1965)Juraj Herz
The Killer Hides His Face • Vrah skrývá tvář (1966)Petr Schulhoff
Five Girls Around the Neck • Pět holek na krku (1967)Evald Schorm
Private Torment • Soukromá vichřice (1967)Hynek Bočan
Wedding Under Supervision • Svatba jako remen (1967)Jirí Krejcík
The Stolen Airship • Ukradená vzducholod (1967)Karel Zeman
A Quiet Afternoon • Fádní odpoledne (1968)Ivan Passer
Elective Affinities • Sprízneni volbou (1968)Charles Vachek
The Sweet Games of Last Summer • Sladké hry minulého léta (1969)Juraj Herz
Celebration in the Botanical Garden • Slávnost v botanickej záhrade (1969)Elo Havetta
Funeral Rites • Smutecní slavnost (1969)Zdenek Sirový
All My Good Countrymen • Všichni dobří rodáci (1969)Vojtěch Jasný
Squandered Sunday • Zabitá neděle (1969)Drahomíra Vihanová
The Joke • Žert (1969)Jaromil Jireš
Behold Homolka • Ecce Homo Homolka (1970)Jaroslav Papousek
Witches' Hammer • Kladivo na čarodějnice (1970)Otakar Vávra
Copper Tower • Medená veža(1970)Martin Hollý
Fruit of Paradise • Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (1970)Věra Chytilová
The Ear • Ucho (1970)Karel Kachyňa
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders • Valerie a týden divů (1970)Jaromil Jireš
Desire Called Anada • Touha zvaná Anada (1971)Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos

Please feel free to comment on these, or other films that should be included in this list.  I am open to your suggestions.


TimBowen said...

Whoa...so much here I don't even know where to start. I've never seen any Czech movies, so I might have to check one out.

Also, wanted to let you know that you're the HOLY BLOG OF THE WEEK: 

Bonjour Tristesse said...


Bob said...

Ok, I'll probably make a post about it on my blog, so I'll let you know.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah that would be cool if you could provide some additional suggestions, I don't know where to start with the newer films.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Great.  Feel free to post your links here if you do.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Well apparently it's not very good, maybe I'll replace it with something else when I get to the current films.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah I believe so, but I am not entirely certain.  I'll have to skip any ones that don't have English or French subs.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Me as well, and hopefully I'll discover how to pronounce them properly too.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Great, I'm glad to have you aboard this time around. 

Bob said...

Looking forward to this.

Heh, Post Coitum is pretty stupid. I can give you some tips on newer Czech movies, if you want.

I'm not too familiar with the "New Wave" though. I have some of these on my "to watch" list, but didn't get around to watching them yet.

sperljoss said...

That's awesome. I was thinking of posting about some Czech movies also..

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

hah. Post Coitum eh? And in a different millennium from the others too. Curious.

Mike Subradar said...

Great list, I'll have to check some of them out. Most of them are available with subtitles right?

d_4 said...

I'll be learning a lot of new names. I'm ready.

Jandy said...

Ooh, really looking forward to this! I enjoyed your write-ups in the Extremist French Cinema series, but I'm not that interested in seeing most of the films. This, however - I love the Czech New Wave, even though I've only seen a few films from it. A rep cinema near me ran a Czech New Wave series a couple of years ago, and I saw Daisies, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and Intimate Lighting there (they skipped the most well-known films, which was fine, it was easy to find those elsewhere). I saw Loves of a Blonde recently, too, and loved it. I definitely want to seek out the rest of these now.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks I'm excited to get started.  The first review should be up within a couple of days.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

No, I have to admit, I'm starting completely from zero.  It should be a fun journey though.

Thanks for that link, I will be sure to check it out.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Awesome, thanks for the honor Tim!  It is very much appreciated.

Michael Parent said...

Wow! I'm looking forward to this series!!! Sine I'm taking the infamous French New Wave a spin in the first days of December I will, for sure, have a good look on what you'll be posting here!!! Great work!

John said...

Have you seen any of these yet? Just starting out?  I'm so glad to see someone talking about the Czech New Wave. I LOVE the Czech New Wave. I might even like it more than the French New Wave (although the French New Wave is undeniably more influential). I can't think of a single Czech New Wave movie that I've disliked.

My personal favorites: The Cremator, Daisies, Firemen's Ball, White Dove, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and especially Closely Watched Trains.

Here's a tiny primer I wrote about the Czech New Wave back in February:


The Angry Lurker said...

Good to hear about it, bring it on Holy Blog of the Week.

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