One of the founders of the Czech New Wave of the 1960’s, Jan Nemec died on March 18th. He was 79. he dubbed his own brand of hallucinations imagery and unsettling narratives, offering surreal parable-like films, “dream realism”, a cinema that transcends obvious plotlines and has more in common with musical forms than conventional screen fare.
Banned by the authorities for the political overtones of his work, he could not achieve success in the US were he tried his hand in the 70’s.
Nemec’s final work,“The Wolf of Royal Vineyard Street”, is slated for release later this year.
1 – Diamonds of the Night (Démanty Noci, 1964)
Jan Nemec’s 1964 debut feature , based on Darkness Casts No Shadow, the true-life escape from a Nazi transport by co-writer Arnost Lustig.
A very short black and white feature, it runs for 63 minutes, with lots of long shots and minimal dialogues that breaks with conventional narratives by editing in very short flashbacks and use of symbolic imagery. A manifesto for liberty within its subject but also about the liberty of Nemec’s methods that already made their way to the eyes of the censors and authorities.
Great B&W cinematography by Jaroslav Kucera, who would go on to shoot Vera Chytilová seminal film, Daisies, two years later , working again with editor Miroslav Hájek (the films of Chytilova & Milos Forman).
2- A Report on the Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech, 1966)
A mob is invited to a giant picnic. The party’s guests must abide in the slow acceptance of constraint.
A metaphor that may not be obvious for today’s audience but the communist censors of the time clearly acknowledged and shelved the movie. There is, as always with Nemec, the use of symbolic imagery (and dialogues) and nightmarish narrative, all brilliantly caught on camera by Jaromír Sofr, the cinematographer of the Oscar winning Closely watched Train (1966). The picture of the banquet offers great compositions.
The film sets more of that political overtone that would put Nemec’s in trouble with the authorities in the following years.
3 – Martyrs of Love (Mucedníci lásky, 1967)
The First release of New Line Cinema in the US, Martyrs of Love is a beautiful poem of surrealism co-written by Ester Krumbachová, a key figure of the Czech New Wave, independent from reality, with few dialogues that offers a trio of loony stories. Three burlesque romance encounters and fantasies from a peeper to a dreamy servant and an unexpected guest at a party with attending people obviously so drunk they take a stranger for their friend . All is set on joyful jazzy tunes with a link to the films of the silent era. It is shot by Oscar nominee Cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (Amadeus, If…).
With its free spirited approach, Martyrs of Love cemented Němec’s reputation, for the Communist establishment, as a dangerous nonconformist.