The Czech Republic is known worldwide for its quality cinema, and so the fifth annual Czech Film Week – which runs from August 18 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, from the 19th at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and from August 20 at the Haifa Cinematheque – is an event that movie lovers look forward to all year.
Czech cinema had a flowering in the early to mid-1960s – the so-called Czechoslovak New Wave. But it was cut short when the Soviets occupied then Czechoslovakia in 1968 and cracked down on all forms of dissent, including in the arts.
Some of the most celebrated Czech directors, most notably Milos Forman (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus), went abroad. But those who stayed in the country, among them Jiri Menzel, whose 1966 film Closely Watched Trains won an Oscar, found it much harder to work until after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist rule.
But Czech cinema has been revitalizing itself slowly but surely, and this year’s festival presents the best of contemporary Czech cinema.
This year, two distinguished Czech filmmakers will attend. Zdenek Tyc, the director of Like Never Before, the festival’s opening movie, will be present at the screening. The film, which tells the story of a dying painter and the two women who care for him, won two Czech Oscars – called Lions – for Best Actor (Jiri Schmitzer) and Best Actress (Petra Spalkova).
Jiri Madl is one of The Czech Republic’s most popular young actors, and he has worked on international productions such as the television series Borgia. He will be at the festival to present his directorial debut, To See the Sea, a light, coming-of-age drama about a boy who documents his family’s life with a video camera and ends up finding out more about himself and his world than he imagined. The movie won two awards at the Zlin International Youth Film Festival – Best Feature for Children and Best Actor (Petr Simcak).
Martin Duba’s Bella Mia is a live-action fable about a cow that does not want to be put to death and finds herself in the middle of a battle among farmers, hunters and animal-rights activists.
Alice Nellis’s Revival is a bittersweet comedy about a band that was once described as Czechoslovakia’s Beatles, who come back together for a revival tour. But many aspects of their lives and the world around them have changed since the last time they played together, and their oncerevolutionary sound seems quaint to the younger generation. The latest film by acclaimed director Nellis, it won the Audience Award at last year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Ondrej Sokol directed and stars in the black comedy/crime-drama Krasno, about sons who suspect their gangster father and his partner of killing their mother. It’s the first feature film by Sokol who, in addition to acting, has worked as a theater director.
Jan Hrebejk’s Honeymoon tells the story of a beautiful couple, seemingly made for each other, whose wedding and honeymoon are crashed by a mysterious stranger from the groom’s past. This tense psychological drama won raves at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and Hrebejk won the Best Director Award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
One of the masterpieces of the golden age of Czech cinema, the 1967 Marketa Lazarova, directed by Frantisek Pavlicek, tells the story of a Czech clan in medieval times that comes into conflict with the king, against the background of Christianity supplanting paganism in the countryside. The movie is a visually rich and sometimes chaotic story of its title character, whose life illustrates the changes in the Czech kingdom at that time.
The Tel Aviv Cinematheque is featuring one additional film, In the Shadow, directed by David Ondricek, for which he won the Directors to Watch Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It’s a police drama set in the 1950s, where a detective investigating a jewelry heist finds that some unlikely suspects get him into hot water.
Czech Film Week is sponsored by the Czech Centre Tel Aviv.