Given the very nature of the Czechoslovak New Wave, it may seem obvious to note that certain films focused on the individual’s relationship with the state. In the case of the second volume of Second Run’s collected works from the movement, however, it is a necessity. Comprised of Milos Forman’s A Blonde in Love (1965), Jan Nemec’s The Party and the Guests (1966) and Jirí Menzel’s Larks on a String (1990), this newly released box set brings together a trio of hugely important films from the distributor’s catalogue.
For Forman, the tension arises in watching a young woman trying to be just that in a dictatorial milieu; in Nemec’s film, a septuplet are scathingly shown to submit to a domineering host at a dinner party; Menzel meanwhile examines the middle classes as they labour under re-education in the post-war years. All three films begin with a little flirting. The protagonist of A Blonde in Love, Andula (Hana Brejchová), opens the film by confiding to a friend about a romantic assignation and betrothal, before a typically surreal scene in which her suitor stands her up but she runs into another man with whom she has a loaded dialogue.
Pavel (Václav Neckár), one of several leads in Larks on a String, secretly clambers over piles of junk in a scrapyard to make lingering doe-eyes at the beautiful prisoner, Jitka (Jitka Zelenohorská) who is working below. In both of these instances, romance remains a key motivator throughout the films as both Pavel and Andula attempt to woo their beloveds. The Party and the Guests, on the other hand, begins with a group getting quietly squiffy at a picnic full of knowing looks and flirtatious whispers. On their way to the eponymous gathering, however, they are hijacked by Rudolf (Jan Klusák) whose unnerving grin in the farcical events that follow seems to echo through the years down to the horrific politeness of the antagonists in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games efforts. The fawning compliance of the group to Rudolf and then the man holding his leash, their host (Ivan Vyskocil), is most clearly read as collaboration but both Nemec and wonderful screenwriter Ester Krumbachová – who also wrote Daisies for Vera Chytilová and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders for Jaromil Jires.
Clearly that is not what the government thought, however, as the film was famously banned ‘forever’ after the Prague Spring in 1968. A similar fate befell Larks on a String which was never released upon completion in the late 1960s and finally saw the light of day in 1990. Much like Menzel’s masterpiece Closely Observed Trains (1966), it juxtaposes humanity and humour against awful realities – particular focusing on the ‘disappearing’ of those that questioned and spoke out. The stark contrasts between reality and fantasy are also central to Andula’s woes in A Blonde in Love, as the audience comes to understand the tragic life that is actually led behind the aching romance that she claims. It is far from a flight of fancy, though, to suggest that Second Run have once again curated a fantastic collection for those who are endlessly fascinated by the Czechoslovak New Wave. And those that are not, should be.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson