Thursday, 17 June 2010


Writer Bohumil Hrabal was arguably one of the driving forces behind the Czech New Wave, his novel Closely Observed Trains forming the basis of Jiří Menzel’s classic film of the same name. In the omnibus film Pearls of the Deep, five of the best-known Czech directors used Hrabal’s writings as inspiration for their own short films. First is Menzel’s Mr. Baltazar’s Death, in which a family day out at a motorcycle rally goes tragically awry. Jan Němec directs the second installment The Imposters, wherein two dying old men compete to impress the other with life experiences. Evald Schorm’s The House of Happiness features a superstitious insurance salesman who grows paranoid after an encounter with a bizarre artist. Věra Chytilová’s The Snack Bar portrays the aftermath of a woman’s suicide, while the final segment Romance, directed by Jiromil Jireš, charts the brief romance between a young man and a spirited gypsy girl.

What is most immediately noticeable about Pearls of the Deep is the demystification of morbid subjects such as death, a common theme to Czech cinema and literature. Menzel, Němec and Chytilová all make a point of treating death not as an end, but as a beginning of another form of life. Though certainly an interesting concept, the project is unfortunately too unbalanced to be a great representation of the Czech New Wave, with Schorm’s installation being the weakest (his King And Women might have been a better bet). Nonetheless, it is worth a view for Chytilová and Jireš’ films.

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