A truly talented director identified with the Czech New Wave of the 1960’s, Jaromil Jires graduated from the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Like numerous colleagues, government officials where often displeased with his work made of controversial subject for the time and place.
He made three major features before setting, in the 1970’s, on less controversial subjects as the results of the 1968 events in Prague.
1 – KRIK (The Cry, 1964)
Jires first feature unfolds, in fragmented memories, the romantic life of a couple. Slávek, a TV fixer, keeps his appointments with customers while his wife, Ivana, is delivering their baby. People and events around them are introducing us, through circumstantial and existentialist moods, to various views on Czech society of the time.
Great editing by Jirina Lukesova (the films of Jiri Menzel) on lyrical music by Jan Klusák that is in turn dramatic while creating at times many cheerful and creative moments. The largely dubbed sound focus on dialogues and music more than on ambient sounds in a poetic hymn to life, remembrance of some of Resnais’ work. The basis is simple but the reading reaches a level of fresh complexity in its cinematic language perfectly caught on camera by the great Jaroslav Kucera .
A beautiful love poem.
2 –The JOKE (Zert, 1969)
Expelled from the Communist Party and his University and sent to camp for writing “Optimism is the opium of the people,” on a note to his girlfriend, a man tries, fifteen years later, to get a revenge in a non-violent way.
Banned for 20 years, this is a beautifully shot (by cinematographer Jan Kuric) adaptation of Kundera’s book. A furious critic of totalitarianism, it is filled with sadness and bitterness but with also satiric ways and complex outings. It is an intricate emotionally significant feature beautifully played by actor Josef Somr (from Oscar Winner Closely Watched Trains) as the main protagonist.
3 – Valerie and Her Week of Wonders – (Valerie a Týden Divu, 1970)
A young girl protects her grandmother, accused of witchcraft, by means of magic.
Based on a novel by Vitezslav Nezval and co written by Ester Krumbachová, Valerie offers none of the usual tale of morality. What we gain is a work of art at the junction of reality and dream that is as eerie as it is romantic.
Jan Curík’s Cinematography is dazzling and his masterful use of contrasting colors creates a stunning visual film made of mystical imagery, Gothic ambiance and restrain erotism creating its own nightmarish pagan atmosphere. There is also a superb score by Lubo Fiser and Jan Klusak that combines it all together.
This is great filmmaking and an overlooked classic at last properly restored for a Blu-ray release. A masterpiece. Period!