Czechoslovakia



NORMALIZATION AND AFTER

The period between 1970 and 1989, that of so-called "normalization," was, despite substantial production, a relative lowpoint in the history of Czech and Slovak film, as it was in cultural life in general. Following the invasion, it has been estimated that over 170,000 people left the country and that 70,000 were expelled from the Communist Party. The heads of the Barrandov and Koliba studios were sacked and the films of the "wave" were condemned as expressions of petty bourgeois egoism.

The new films of the 1970s were almost devoid of substantive content. Simplified moral tales and teenage love stories were the order of the day. Nonetheless, directors such as Kachyňa, Jireš, Vláčil, and Uher walked

Miloš Forman's parodic Firemen's Ball (1967).
the tightrope with a certain measure of success. Menzel, who returned to filmmaking in 1975, and Chytilová, who returned in 1976, kept alive some of the qualities of the New Wave—Menzel with his adaptations from Hrabal, which included Postřižiny ( Cutting it Short , 1980), and Chytilová with a number of critically abrasive films such as Hra o jablko ( The Apple Game , 1976) and Panelstory ( Prefab Story , 1979). Menzel even gained an Oscar ® nomination for Vesničko má středisková ( My Sweet Little Village , 1985). But the regime was not interested in promoting its more interesting projects, preferring to champion propagandistic epics to an uninterested world film community.

It was against this background that the striking animated films of the surrealist Jan Švankmajer made their appearance (although he had been making films since the early 1960s). Largely suppressed by the authorities, his work finally emerged at the Annecy Animation Festival in 1983 and he was subsequently to make his first feature, Něco z Alenky ( Alice , 1987), as a Swiss-British-German co-production. By the end of the 1980s, it was often alleged that the problems for cinema were less those of censorship than an absence of good scripts, the talent needed for their creation having been lost through years of both enforced and semi-voluntary compromise. Nonetheless, prior to the Velvet Revolution of November 1989 and the fall of Communism, it had been decided to release the banned films (although only a few, including The Shop on Main Street and The Firemen's Ball , had appeared before November) and more challenging work had began to appear from directors such as Zdeněk Tyc (b. 1956) ( Vojtěch, řečený sirotek [ Vojtěch, Called Orphan , 1989]) and Irena Pavla (b. 1960) ( Čas sluhů [ The Time of the Servants , 1989]).

The fall of Communism did not lead to a sudden cinematic rebirth. The nationalized industry was dismantled in 1993 (although the process had begun earlier) and the Barrandov studios have been largely given over to American and other foreign producers, with domestic producers excluded by cost. Government subsidy was virtually removed (unlike the subsidies in Poland and Hungary) and, until 2004, the burden of production fell mainly upon the public service Česká televize (Czech Television), with a consequent emphasis on low budget production. The New Wave did not bounce back, although Němec returned from exile and has made some interesting low budget films (notably Nočníhovory s matkou [ Late Night Talks with Mother , 2001]) and Drahomíra Vihanová made her second feature film, Pevnost ( The Fortress , 1994), after a twenty-year hiatus. Menzel withdrew to theater for ten years rather than face the problems of production in an underfunded industry.

But, despite everything, the Czech industry survived and, in the mid- to late-1990s, a number of younger directors again attracted international attention. They included Jan Svěrák, who won an Oscar ® with his Kolya ( Kolja , 1996), Petr Zelenka ( Knoflíkáři [ Buttoners , 1997]), Saša Gedeon ( Návrat idiota [ Return of the Idiot , 1999]), David Ondříček ( Samotáři [ Loners , 2000]), and Alice Nellis ( Ene bene [ Eeny meeny , 2000]). Jan Hřebejk's Musíme si pomáhat ( Divided We Fall , 2000) and Ondřej Trojan' Želary (2004) were also Oscar ® -nominated, and Trojan's Źr Švankmajer produced a sequence of four features, including Lekce Faust ( Faust , 1994) and Otesánek ( Little Otik , 2001). Kolya 's bittersweet story of an unemployed musician and his relationship with a 5-year-old Russian enjoyed an international box office success and many of the films, echoing the "new wave," focussed on the "small" events of everyday life. Švankmajer pursued his course of "militant surrealism" while Zelenka exhibited an original line in black humor. Both Divided We Fall and Želary were set during World War II. Hřebejk's film told the ironic story of a Czech man who hides a Jewish refugee during the war. He arranges for the Jewish man to make his wife pregnant in order to avoid sharing his flat with a Nazi bureaucrat. The existence of a strong film culture and tradition seemed to have transcended the government's post-Communist view of film culture-as-commodity.

The breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1992–1993 has favored Slovakia somewhat less. Compared with Czech production of fifteen to twenty films a year (thirty-two in 1990), Slovak production dropped to an average of two films a year in the late 1990s (compared with twelve in 1990). A number of directors made their debuts, but only one, Martin Šulík, was able to establish a body of work, with a sequence of five films including Záhrada ( The Garden , 1995) and Krajinka ( Landscape , 2000). Like those of other Slovak directors, they showed a folk inspiration, but their mood is reflective and exhibits a subdued melancholy. He is arguably the sole "auteur" to have established himself in the Czech and Slovak cinemas since 1989.

SEE ALSO National Cinema

Hames, Peter. "Czechoslovakia: After the Spring." Post New Wave Cinema in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe , edited by Daniel J. Goulding. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

——. The Czechoslovak New Wave . 2nd ed. London, Wallflower Press, 2005.

——, ed. The Cinema of Central Europe . London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

——, ed. Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Švankmajer . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press/Praeger, 1995.

Iordanova, Dina. Cinema of the Other Europe: The Industry and Artistry of East Central European Film . London: Wallflower Press, 2003.

Liehm, Antonín J. Closely Watched Films: The Czechoslovak Experience . White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1974.

Liehm, Mira, and Antonín J. Liehm, The Most Important Art: East European Film After 1945 . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Škvorecký, Josef. All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema . Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1971.

Peter Hames



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