Budapest, 1 April 1918.
Gave up law studies to study photography at Bratislava school, 1938.
Prisoner in Nazi labor camp, early 1940s; after war, producer and
director, Bratislava Studio of Short Films; scriptwriter and assistant
director, Barrandov Studio, Prague, from 1947; began association with
Elmar Klos (born in Brno, 26 January 1910), 1952; moved to U.S., 1969.
Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, for
The Shop on Main Street
, 1965; National Artist of Czechoslovakia, 1969.
In Los Angeles, 1 June 1979.
Life Is Rising from the Ruins
Katka ( Kitty ) (+ co-sc)
Unos ( Kidnapped ) (co-d, co-sc with Elmar Klos)
Hudba z Marsu ( Music from Mars ) (co-d, co-sc with Klos)
Tam na konečné ( The House at the Terminus ) (co-d with Klos)
Tři přání ( Three Wishes ) (co-d, co-sc with Klos)
Smrt si řiká Engelchen ( Death Is Called Engelchen ) (co-d, co-sc with Klos)
Obžalovaný ( The Accused ; The Defendant ) (co-d, co-sc with Klos)
Obchod na korze ( The Shop on Main Street ; The Shop on the High Street ) (co-d, co-sc with Klos)
The Angel Levine
Touha zvaná Anada ( Adrift ), Something Is Drifting on the Water ) (completed 1969; co-d with Klos)
Lies My Father Told Me
Nevité o byte? ( Looking for a Flat ) (sc)
Selected Speeches and Interviews , London, 1985.
"Elmar Klos and Jan Kadár," interview with Jules Cohen, in Film Culture (New York), Fall/Winter 1967.
Interview with Robert Haller, in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1973.
Interview with L. Vigo, in Image et Son (Paris), June 1973.
Bocek, Jaroslav, Modern Czechoslovak Film 1945–1965 , Prague, 1965.
Liehm, Antonin, Closely Watched Films , White Plains, Prague, 1974.
Hames, Peter, The Czechoslovak New Wave , Berkeley, 1985.
"Director," in the New Yorker , 12 February 1966.
"The Czech Who Bounced Back," in Films Illustrated (London), April 1972.
Obituary, in New York Times , 4 June 1979.
Moret, H., obituary in Ecran (Paris), 15 July 1979.
Gervais, G., obituary in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1979.
Keenan, Richard C., "The Sense of an Ending: Jan Kadár's Distortion of Stephen Crane's The Blue Hotel ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 16, no. 4, 1988.
* * *
Ján Kadár is undoubtedly best known for his film The Shop on the High Street , made with his long–time collaborator, Elmar Klos. This was the first Czechoslovak film to win an Academy Award and was heralded as the beginning of the Czech film renaissance of the 1960s. In fact, Kadár made his first feature, Katka , in 1950, and Klos was one of those who helped to draw up the plans for the nationalisation of the film industry in that decade. This, of course, was a mixed blessing, as Kadár himself pointed out: "to innovative filmmakers this was a dream—it would liberate them from commercial pressures. Instead, there was political pressure. This was the disadvantage of subsidised art."
Katka itself ran into political difficulties. Made in Kadár's native Slovakia, it tells the story of a village girl who becomes a factory worker. However, as the director points out, at about this time "it had been decided that it was no longer necessary to urge people to leave their homes for industry. But above all, the film wasn't 'national' enough, it wasn't sufficiently steeped in folklore and Slovakism. And that was referred to as 'the bourgeois point of view."' Expelled from the Slovak film industry, Kadár "became Czech" and began his partnership with Klos. Their first collaboration was Kidnapped , which Kadár later described as "an extremely naive, dogmatic, cold-war type of film" but which was nonetheless criticised at the time for "bourgeois objectivism." Saved by the intervention of V. I. Pudovkin, they went on to make Music from Mars , a musical satire on bureaucracy, which gave rise to complaints that they had slandered public figures.
Their next film steered clear of trouble. This was House at the Terminus , which posed the question of whether is it right to bring children into the world in its present state. Given the country's low and falling birth rate this was more than simply a philosophical question. By avoiding explicitly "public" problems and issues and concentrating instead on the private sphere, the film managed to avoid censure for drawing what is surely a rather depressing picture of Czech society. Peter Hames in The Czechoslovak New Wave speaks of its air of "gloomy desolation" and remarks that although "there is little overt political criticism, the implicit criticism is considerable, and the problems with which it deals take place in a social context. Hence loneliness, cynicism, personal and professional failure, compromise, wrongful imprisonment, and lack of faith are shown as generalised characteristics of a supposedly socialist society," one in which, that is, such problems have supposedly been eliminated.
Three Wishes , a modern version of the old fairy tale in which a character is granted his heart's desire only to find that the dream turns sour, was banned until 1963 (that is, once the process of de-Stalinization had got under way). Again, the problem seems to have been that it painted a less than ideal view of society, since it shows the central character realising his wishes by exploiting the corruption and hypocrisy he finds around him in society.
After this film, Kadár and Klos were unable to work again for two years, but during the ensuing "thaw" period they produced their most famous work, The Shop on the High Street. This is set in Slovakia during the period of the independent fascist state, described by one Czechoslovak critic as "a gruesomely grotesque miniature of the apocalypse of the Third Reich" and by Klos as representing "a special kind of national fascism." The story concerns an old, deaf Jewish woman and her relationship with the Slovak who is assigned to her shop as an "Aryan controller." An extremely effective picture of everyday fascism in an ordinary small community, the film may revolve around a grim and tragic theme but it is actually played largely as a gentle comedy. Kadár once claimed that his favourite directors were Chaplin, Truffaut, and Fellini, and their presences can all be felt here in the quirky, offbeat humour, the mingling of the comic and tragic, and the gentle observation of its characters' failures and all-too-human shortcomings. One is also, of course, put in mind of the early works of Passer, Forman and Menzel. Like the old lady at the centre of the film, Kadár was himself Jewish, and although by his own account he never encountered anti-Semitism, The Shop later attracted charges of Zionism from certain quarters, particularly after Kadár's departure for the States.
With the end of the "Prague Spring," Kadár left Czechoslovakia for Vienna and from there went to America. At the time of the invasion he and Klos were working on a Czech-American co-production titled Adrift , which was made in collaboration with the Hungarian writer Imre Gyöngyössy, who later went on to become a director himself. On his arrival in the States, Kadár was fortunate enough to be offered the direction of The Angel Levine , based on a Bernard Malamud story. He then returned to Czechoslovakia to complete Adrift. This is an atypical Kadár film, clearly influenced by Resnais and Robbe-Grillet, about a girl who may or may not have been saved from drowning in the Danube.
In the States and Canada (where he also found work) Jewish themes in his films clearly came to the fore—hence The Angel Levine, Lies My Father Told Me , and Mendelstam's Witness. Other works which must surely have had a strong personal resonance for the director were the TV movies The Case against Milligan , which examines the theme of freedom of conscience, and The Other Side of Hell , which looks at the plight of the sane person in an insane society. While none of his later films attain the level of The Shop on the High Street , they nonetheless attest to the warmth and generosity of spirit that is the hallmark of Kadár's best and most typical work.