Devotees of the annual Czech film festival in London from its early years may be shocked but also delighted to learn that Made in Prague has now reached its 16th edition. This charming little festival devoted to all things Czech (often incorporating Czechoslovakian films from the pre-1990’s) has now expanded from its cosy den of a three-day run at London’s Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to other venues in the capital – The Tricycle, The Barbican and The Gate Cinema, as well as the Czech Embassy.
The programme for New Czech Cinema this year comprises 13 features and six short films. Though the majority of screenings still take place over the three core days at the Riverside (November 9th-11th), other screenings follow to the end of November in venues across London. An exhibition Alois Nebel: My Life runs simultaneously at the Riverside Studios from 1st-18th November to complement the film season, not least this year’s opening gala screening of Alois Nebel (Tomáš Luňák, Czech Republic/Germany/Slovakia ) on November 9th. Set in 1989 and drawing allusions to the legendary Closely Observed Trains (Jiri Menzel, Czechoslovakia ), it is based on the cult graphic novel trilogy by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromir 99. Alois Nebel is a stationmaster in a small village in the Jesenik mountains, close to the Polish border, who feels guilt for the post-war expulsion of the Germans and has hallucinations connected with these. However, when he encounters a mysterious mute man called Květa he is able to bring his past full-circle and also find love. This superbly atmospheric debut juxtaposes rotoscope animation with an evocative soundtrack. It also played in the official selection of Venice and Toronto in 2011.
One of the gala screenings, A Night Too Young (Olmo Omerzu, Czech Republic/Slovenia ), is based around two boys from an isolated housing estate who suddenly find themselves in a woman’s apartment where two grown men are also present. They lose track of time and become drunk. Subsequently they become embroiled in the shameless lives of the three adult protagonists and have their first peripheral introductions to love and sexuality. A Night Too Young is the feature film of Slovenian-born Olmo Omerzu whose long apprenticeship has involved making short films since 1998 and studying at Prague Film Academy (FAMU) from 2004-2011. Before Film School he was involved in editorial for the internationally acclaimed comic magazine Stripburger and had his own comic book called Shadows published. His major breakthrough came in 2008 when his short The Second Act won awards and received a Special Mention at Karlovy Vary. The director says of his debut feature, ‘This isn’t a classic childhood or coming of age story, but an allegory where male and female archetypes play out in the world of children.’* A Night Too Young screened at this year’s Berlinale to an enthusiastic audience and won the main prize at the Neisse film festival. This screening is accompanied by a 43-minute short film Second Act (Olmo Omerzu, Czech Republic ), a story about a honeymoon which comes too late to salvage a marriage.
The Czech Republic and surrounding region has always been one of the leading lights in animation. Some of its now renowned directors began creating animated shorts. One of the resonant short films in this programme is called Tram, a seven-minute cartoon by Prague-born Michaela Pavlátová. Tram focuses on the erotic dreams of a female tramway driver in which a tram packed with male passengers takes on erotic symbols in her imagination, the tram ride becoming a surreal and phallic delirium, pushed by obsessive rhythms and music. Pavlátová treats her subject with a lot of humor, subtly using symbols as opposed to sexually explicit imagery, such as the punching of the tickets in the machine and the button for opening and closing the doors. For Tram, Pavlátová was responsible for all aspects of the film apart from the music: idea, script, storyboard, animation direction and design, the end result being a delightful and hilarious viewing experience. Tram accompanies the feature Walking Too Fast (Radim Špaček, Czech Republic ). Though there are obvious comparisons with the German Cold War drama The Lives of Others (Florian Maria Georg Christian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany ), this presents a less altruistic secret agent who becomes embroiled in the lives of a leading dissident and his mistress. No longer caring about the tyrannical system he represents, he abuses his position to break up the lovers so he can have the woman for himself.
As usual, the Made in Prague season also includes older classic films in its programme. Following the Barbican live music accompaniment by Najponk to the silent film The Organist of St Vitus’ Cathedral (Martin Frič, Czechoslovakia ), which opened the film season, Czech cineastes can look forward a screening of Beauty and the Beast (Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia ). Other major events around the film programme include the Riverside gala screening of Eighty Letters (Václav Kadrnka, Czech Republic ) followed by a Q&A with director Vaclav Kadrnka and The Gate Cinema gala screening on 29th November of this year’s Palm Springs Film Festival winner The House (Zuzana Liová, Slovakia, Czech Republic ) with director Zuzana Liová also present for a Q&A.
The full programme for the films, exhibitions and live Jazz performances of this year’s Made in Prague season can be found at the Czech Centre website.
* From the Press Release of A Night Too Young accompanying the screening at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.