Friday, July 4, 2014

Czech Season at Riverside Studios (The Fireman's Ball, Buttoners & Markéta Lazarová)

As long time readers will know I have a soft spot for Czech cinema, particularly 1960s films produced as part of the Czechoslovak New Wave.  In the midst of staid, dull and rigid cinema, these films burst with dynamism.  Over the years I've gone on about them to such an extent that the Czech Centre in London took note and have asked if I'd promote some screenings coming up.  These are ace films that more people should see, so I'm more than happy to oblige.

First up is a double bill of The Fireman's Ball and Buttoners:

The Firemen’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko)
Sunday 13 July, 6.30 pm
Miloš Forman, Czechoslovakia, 1967, 71min, sub-titles

"A ball which goes horribly wrong is the setting for Forman’s compassionate and beautifully controlled satire on organizational ineptitude and Czech provincial life where stealing is rampant and ugliness presented as beauty. UK premiere of the digital restoration."

Miloš Forman is the top dog in classic Czech cinema and The Fireman's Ball is one of his finest works.  In 1968 it was banned "permanently and forever" by a Communist regime terrified at the advance of Soviet troops.  If a film is deemed so dangerous it must be suppressed forever it's pretty much worth a watch.  Yet The Fireman's Ball isn't some molotov-wielding piece of agitprop, it's a gentle satire on bureaucracy - exposing the ridiculousness of authority rather than trying to smash it down.  It's a prime example in showing how authoritarian regimes fear derisory laughter more than they fear guns and bombs.

Buttoners (Knoflíkáři)
Sunday 13 July, 8.05 pm
Petr Zelenka,1998, 104min, subtitles
With: Eva Holubová, Rudolf Hrušinský, Jiří Kodet

"A black comedy about spitting on trains, bad weather, the atom bomb, shooting human sperm into space, infidelity and people who have killed other people. A kaleidoscope of eccentric characters creates a picture of a world in which everything is connected."

I've only seen Buttoners once a while back, and my memories of it are a little fuzzy, but I remember a darkly anarchic interlinked narrative shot through jet black humour, surreal logic, and a kind of weirdly comic stoicism.  It's these things that make it a perfect example of what characteristics make up of Czech cinema. 

And on the following Wednesday...

Markéta Lazarová
Wednesday 16 July, 7pm
František Vláčil, Czechoslovakia, 1967, 159 minutes, Czech with English subtitles
"A very special screening of the great Czech filmmaker František Vláčil’s acknowledged masterpiece. Presented for the first time in the UK from a stunning new 4k restoration of the film, created and supplied by the Czech National Film Archive. Voted the greatest Czech film ever made."

"The most convincing film about the Middle Ages made anywhere." says Sight and Sound, if that's true, then nuts to the Middle Ages!  Seriously, Markéta Lazarová is the real deal; a shit-spattered, bloody, bonkers hellscape of misery and death.  This film knocked me on my arse the first time I saw it: a black and white fever dream of mass slaughter, roving packs of wolves, religious ecstasy, people being transfigured into pure evil, crucifixion.. and it goes on!  The film emits seamy malevolence from every frame, portraying the life of people in the Middle Ages as a cruel nightmare where kindness is meaningless and insane gods roam the land strangling the human spirit.

If you're in the mood for an existential vision of humanity at its most tortured this is very much the place to be on Wednesday the 16th.

Three great films, all worthy of a night out!

Tickets available from

(Incidentally this is not a paid post, I really do very much enjoy Czech cinema and London City Nights is happy to support the Czech Centre)

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