Close Up

23 April - 23 May 2019: Close-Up on the Czechoslovak New Wave


Coinciding with the UK premiere of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's epic documentary CzechMate: In Search of Jirí Menzel at Close-Up, we're thrilled to present a programme of masterpieces from the Czech and Slovak New Wave.

With thanks to Shivendra Singh Dungarpur for his generous support in making this programme possible.

The White Dove
František Vláčil, 1960, 67 min
Czech with English subtitles

The debut feature of master filmmaker František Vláčil (Marketa Lazarová; The Valley of the Bees) The White Dove’s straightforward narrative belies complex themes and striking visual imagery. A young boy injures and then nurses a white dove back to health so that it can continue its journey home. Echoing Ken Loach’s film Kes, and with music by the great Zdenek Liška, the film emerges as a work of great poetry and humanism. read more

The Boxer and Death
Peter Solan, 1962, 95 min
Czech and German with English subtitles

A socio-psychological drama set in a Nazi concentration camp, where a prisoner, a former boxer, faces the camp commandant in the ring. The most important work by Slovak director and screenwriter Peter Solan. read more

Diamonds of the Night
Jan Němec, 1964, 64 min
Czech with English subtitles

The debut feature from Jan Němec, Diamonds of the Night is one of the most thrilling and startlingly original works of cinema. Told almost without dialogue, it chronicles the tense and desperate journey of two teenage boys who are trying to stay alive after escaping from a German train bound for a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. With its virtuoso cinematography, inspired editing and brilliantly utilised soundtrack, the film is a landmark of the ill-fated Czech New Wave. read more

Josef Kilián
Pavel Jurácek & Jan Schmidt, 1965, 37 min
Czech with English subtitles

The surreal Josef Kilián is a dark and absurdly humorous, biting allegory of life under a totalitarian regime. Inspired by the grotesque nightmares of Franz Kafka and another icon of Czech literature, the anti-militarist, anti-authoritarian Jaroslav Hasek, the film was suppressed by the authorities after the Soviet invasion of 1968. Having made only four films, and despite being the author of the screenplays for Jindřich Polák's Ikarie XB 1, Věra Chytilová's Daisies and Karel Zeman's A Jester’s Tale, Juráček remains one of the Czechoslovak New Wave’s most neglected artists. read more

The Shop on the High Street
Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos, 1965, 125 min
Slovak & Yiddish with English subtitles

An inept Slovak peasant is torn between greed and guilt when the Nazi-backed bosses of his town appoint him “Aryan controller” of an old Jewish widow’s button shop. Humor and tragedy fuse in this scathing exploration of one cowardly man’s complicity in the horrors of a totalitarian regime. Made near the height of Soviet oppression in Czechoslovakia, The Shop on the High Street features intense editing and camera work which won it the Academy Award™ for Best Foreign Film in 1965. read more

Closely Observed Trains
Jiří Menzel, 1966, 93 min
Czech with English subtitles

At a village railway station in occupied Czechoslovakia, a bumbling dispatcher’s apprentice longs to liberate himself from his virginity. Oblivious to the war and the resistance that surrounds him, this young man embarks on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery, encountering a universe of frustration, eroticism, and adventure within his sleepy backwater depot. read more

Vera Chytilová, 1966, 74 min
Czech with English subtitles

Maybe the New Wave’s most anarchic entry, Věra Chytilová’s absurdist farce follows the misadventures of two brash young women. Believing the world to be “spoiled,” they embark on a series of pranks in which nothing – food, clothes, men, war – is taken seriously. Daisies is an aesthetically and politically adventurous film that’s widely considered one of the great works of feminist cinema. read more

The Firemen’s Ball
Miloš Forman, 1967, 72 min
Czech with English subtitles

A milestone of the Czech New Wave, Miloš Forman’s first colour film The Firemen’s Ball is both a dazzling comedy and a provocative political satire. A hilarious saga of good intentions confounded, the story chronicles a firemen’s ball where nothing goes right – from a beauty pageant whose reluctant participants embarrass the organizers to a lottery from which nearly all the prizes are pilfered. read more

The Cremator
Juraj Herz, 1968, 95 min
Czech with English subtitles

Juraj Herz's film The Cremator has been described in many ways – as surrealist-inspired horror, as expressionist fantasy, as a dark and disturbing tale of terror. This brilliantly chilling film, a mix of Dr Strangelove and Repulsion, is set in Prague during the Nazi occupation. It tells the story of Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský), a professional cremator, for whom the political climate allows free rein to his increasingly deranged impulses for the "salvation of the world". read more

Birds, Orphans and Fools
Juraj Jakubisko, 1969, 78 min
Slovak with English subtitles

Ranked among the five best Slovak films by Slovak and Czech film critics, Juraj Jakubisko's long-repressed tale of love, death and insanity focuses on the unconventional relationship between two men and a Jewish orphan girl (Marketa Lazarová's eponymous Magda Vášáryová) as they travail a war-torn landscape of bombed-out churches and wrecked homes. read more

Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970, 73 min
Czech with English subtitles

A girl on the verge of womanhood finds herself in a sensual fantasyland of vampires, witchcraft, and other threats in this eerie and mystical movie daydream. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders serves up an endlessly looping, nonlinear fairy tale, set in a quasi-medieval landscape. Ravishingly shot, enchantingly scored, and spilling over with surreal fancies, this enticing phantasmagoria from director Jaromil Jireš is among the most beautiful oddities of the Czechoslovak New Wave. read more

CzechMate: In Search of Jirí Menzel
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, 2018, 429 min
Czech, English, Slovak, Hungarian & Polish with English subtitles

This expansive and intimate, eminently engaging documentary was a labor of love by Mumbai-based archivist and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who became enamored with Jiří Menzel’s work after seeing Closely Observed Trains as a film student at the Film and Television Institute of India. Years later, Dungarpur initiated a correspondence and eventual friendship with Menzel that resulted in this astonishingly detailed and probing documentary on Menzel’s life and career, postwar Czechoslovak cinema, the New Wave and the political turmoil leading up to the Velvet Revolution and the ever resilient Czech cultural identity. read more