Bouncing Czechs

The lively Czech filmfest at the cinematheques brightens up the summer

Lidice film  (photo credit: courtesy )
Lidice film
(photo credit: courtesy )
Last year’s Czech film event at the Czech Center Tel Aviv was so popular that this year, the center and the Czech Embassy chose to partner with the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Sderot and Holon cinematheques to present a full program of Czech films, beginning August 21.
Czech cinema has a rich history, although in recent years it has not received as much attention as films from other nations. In the mid- 1960s, just before the Prague Spring, several Czech films that poked gentle but pointed fun at the regime were international hits, including Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains and Milos Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball. Forman long ago left for the West and went Hollywood in a big way, but other filmmakers stayed behind, weathered the Soviet invasion as best they could. Like Menzel and the surrealist director Jan Svankmajer, they have continued making films into the post-Soviet era. Did the world lose interest in Czech cinema once its filmmakers were no longer under the thumb of the Soviet Union? It’s an open question, and one that may be instructive for Israeli filmmakers to consider.
But now a new generation has come along, and their work is featured in this Czech film celebration. The festival features films on a variety of subjects, but several look back into World War II-era history for dramatic stories. All the films in this festival were made during the last year, so it seems that Czech filmmakers are poised to revive their status on the international cinema scene. The festival includes both feature-length and short films.
The program opens with Lidice, which will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque in the presence of producer and editor Adam Dvorak, co-producer David Rauch and composer James Harris.
Directed by Petr Nikolaev, it tells the complex story behind a littleknown historical incident. The population of the Czech village of Lidice was massacred by the Nazis as an act of revenge for a political assassination. The narrative is told from the point of view of the only survivor of the massacre, a man who was imprisoned at the time for accidentally killing his son.
A different historical tragedy is the basis for Vaclav Marhoul’s feature film Tobruk, which is about a naïve recruit in the Czech army in 1941 in North Africa. Radim Prochaska’s Our Outcast Patriots of Tobruk is a documentary about the same battle.
Brutality and realism also set the tone for the film Bastards. Directed by Petr Sicha, it tells of the rape and murder of a young teacher by three of her students. When the justice system fails to punish the culprits, the victim’s brother takes the law into his own hands. Irena Pavlaskova’s An Earthy Paradise for the Eyes is a more light-hearted but still thoughtful film about an adolescent girl growing up in the 1970s. Her father, who has abandoned the family, is a wellknown actor and dissident, and gradually she finds herself drawn to the dissident movement.
Karel Janak’s The Rafters is a coming-of-age comedy about two teenage boys looking for love while on vacation with their parents.
Robert Sedlachek’s The Greatest Czechs is a kind of comic fable about an ambitious but unsuccessful director and his crew struggling to make a movie.
Alice Nellis’s Mamas & Papas deals with universal the themes of family and parenting. The film follows the fates of four couples who are all dealing with issues related to becoming parents. Some families try to adopt, while others consider abortion or putting their offspring up for adoption. Their familiar dilemmas underscore how similar these issues are from country to country and may even be more relevant in light of the recent social protests sweeping Israel.
Zuzana Bydzovska won a Golden Lion (the Czech Oscar) for her performance in this film.
The films offer an insight into the culture, language and society of a region where many of us have roots, but few of us truly know what is going on there today.

Opening August 21 at various cinematheques around the country