CZECHMATE: IN SEARCH OF JIŘÍ MENZEL
Scen.: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur. F.: David Čálek. M.: Irene Dhar Malik. Prod.: Dungarpur Films. DCP. D.: 429’. Col.
After almost a year of phone calls and emails, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur convinced Jiří Menzel to meet him in a café in Prague on October 19th, 2010. And so began a conversation and a friendship that has culminated in a seven-hour long film, which not only explores the deceptively whimsical comic films of Jiří Menzel, but also discovers the fascinating world of the Czechoslovakian New Wave. This was a movement peopled by brilliant artists paradoxically making films funded by an oppressive regime, beautifully disguising their subversiveness through humour and artistry.
Filmed over seven years, the documentary looks at a period of over four decades from the nationalisation of the Czechoslovakian film industry in 1948, to the birth of the Nová vlna in the early 60s – a period that was marked by major historical events including the short-lived Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in the same year followed by 21 years of ‘normalisation’ under the Communist regime culminating in the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The changing political landscape resulted in an ever-tightening stranglehold on the creative freedom of these artists. Yet they continued to make films that whispered rebellion, often at the risk of their livelihood, even their lives.
While Menzel was the key that opened the door, the film encompasses the constellation of stars that dotted the firmament of this extraordinary universe including Věra Chytilová, Miloš Forman, Vojtěch Jasný, Ivan Passer, Evald Schorm, Jan Schmidt, Pavel Juráček, Juraj Jakubisko, Dušan Hanák, Elo Havetta, Štefan Uher, Jan Němec, Drahomíra Vihanová and Miroslav Ondříček. 85 personalities have been interviewed for the documentary, including some of the most prominent filmmakers from across the globe such as: Woody Allen, Ken Loach, Emir Kusturica, Raoul Coutard, István Szabó and Andrzej Wajda.
The film has a depth and scale that is unparalleled in the study of the Czechoslovakian New Wave: the socio-political crucible that created this unique movement, the influence of writers like Bohumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera and Josef Škvorecký, the poignancy of a generation of filmmakers who fell off the map and the joy of discovering artists that the world forgot. Given its large canvas, the film has a surprising intimacy as it revisits these pictures from the old world.
Teesha Elizabeth Cherian