Late Night Talks With Mother: New Films from the Karlovy Vary and Plzen Film Festivals

Late Night Talks with Mother (Nocni hovory s matkou). Dir. Jan Nemec (Czech Republic, 2000)

This new film from Czech director Jan Nemec has proved a surprise success at a number of festivals, including Plzen, Karlovy Vary, and Locarno, where it won the main award in the competition for video. It is now scheduled for London, Mannheim, and Rotterdam. Nemec directed such key 60s films as Diamonds of the Night (Demanty noci), The Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech), and Martyrs of Love (Mucednici lasky). He subsequently filmed the Soviet invasion of 1968 and, in the early 70s, faced a choice of exile or jail. Sixteen years were to follow spent in Western Europe and the USA (where he was technical advisor on Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which he had hoped to direct). He has completed two ambitious features since his return to Prague in late 1989. Late Night Talks with Mother was, however, made on DV and premiered on the internet. Constructed as a dialogue with his dead mother, it combines haunting images of his journey to her graveside with material from his life – his marriages to screenwriter Ester Krumbachova (The Party and the Guests, Daisies) and singer Marta Kubisova, his filming of the invasion, and a compelling montage of his time in California. Both formally complex and strangely youthful, it echoes the visual power of his earlier films. Made with a specially adapted camera, its forward movements echo the hypnotic mood of Diamonds of the Night. It has already been acquired for video release in North America by Facets Multi-Media of Chicago.

Little Otik (Otesanek). Dir. Jan Svankmajer. (Czech Republic, 2000)

The new film from Czech animator and surrealist, Jan Svankmajer, is adapted from the fairy story best known from K.J. Erben’s collection. It’s the story of a childless couple who acquire a baby in a rather unorthodox way. Mr Horak digs up a tree root resembling a baby and gives it to his wife. She soon begins to treat it as “real”, providing it with nappies and cutting its nails. The root then acquires human characteristics and develops an enormous appetite, first eating the family cat, the postman, and a social worker, and extending from there its own “parents”. While these events continue, Alzbetka, an eleven year old girl living in an adjoining flat, reads the story of Otesanek, is the only one of the neighbours to understand what is happening, and becomes Little Otik’s protector. Unlike most of Svankmajer’s films, the film is predominantly live action, with dialogue interplay between the main characters. Little Otik, or Otesanek, is, of course, an animated tree root, and Erben’s story read by Alzbetka, is told as two dimensional animation, a film within a film. Svankmajer points out that Otik is not a child in the real sense of the term and, invoking de Sade, describes it as “the materialisation of desire, of a rebellion”. In searching for the realities disguised by the utilitarian and the ordinary, Svankmajer remains true to the aims of surrealism, but effects it all with a humour that should win him new audiences.

Hi, Tereska (Czesc Tereska). Dir. Robert Glinski (Poland, 2001)

A winner of the Special Jury and FIPRESCI awards at Karlovy Vary, Robert Glinski’s film returns to the world of black and white social realism. The two heroines (Alexandra Gietner and Karolina Sobczak) were played by girls from a reform school, one of whom was again on the run at the time of the film’s premiere. It tells the story of a young girl, Tereska, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She goes to a specialist design school but is gradually drawn into teenage life on the estate where she lives, her first sexual experience, and a life of petty theft, violence, and stunted emotion. Her friendship with a crippled guard initially provides a refuge but involves its own dangers. Reminiscent of Ken Loach, the strength of Glinski’s film lies in the almost imperceptible progression from optimism to despair. Significantly, none of the characters are shown as evil, and their lives and failings are those of the environment in which they live.

Passport (Paszport). Dir. Peter Gothar (Hungary, 2001)

Originally made for television, Peter Gothar’s new film tells a simple story in an evocative and telling manner. Yelizaveta (Eniko Borcsok), who works in a brick factory in the Ukraine, marries Jozsi, a farmer in a small village in eastern Hungary. The marriage has been arranged through his sister, Mari, who has written letters on his behalf, hoping that Yelizaveta will be attracted by the prospects of a better life in Hungary. The first signs are promising, but she soon finds herself treated as little more than a servant, and the situation worsens after the birth of her daughter Anechka. She decides to take Anechka with her to the Ukraine but they don’t have a passport. The strength of Gothar’s film lies in its bleakly lyrical evocation of landscape (using black and white and tinted images), its humanist portrait of his central characters, and a sharp sense of the absurd. Eniko Borcsok’s performance as the disappointed but resourceful heroine won her the best actress award at this year’s Hungarian film week in Budapest.