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Czech series @ Walter Reade Theater

Written by: FFT Webmaster | October 21st, 2009

The Ironic Curtain: Czech Cinema since the Velvet Revolution16 Films
Many Special Guests
October 23-29

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Laura Blum, in collaboration with the Czech Film Center and Czech Center New York, will present a series to mark the 20th anniversary of Czech freedom, “The Ironic Curtain: Czech Cinema since the Velvet Revolution,” from Friday, October 23 through Thursday, October 29 (one week).

Spanning 16 features and shorts from Czech and Slovak filmmakers, the series spotlights some of the most accomplished narratives and aesthetics of modern Czech production. Eleven of the series’ selections chart the transformation of Czech society from 1989 to the present; rounding out the historic salute is a sidebar of four films from the 60s and one from the 30s. The series includes recent works by Academy Award-winner Jan Svěrák and Academy Award-nominated Jan Hřebejk and Miloš Forman, among others. Actors, filmmakers and Czech experts join the roster of guest speakers at the screenings.

The Ironic Curtain opens on Friday, October 23 with the North American premiere of Citizen Havel, Pavel Koutecký and Miroslav Janek’s intimate documentary about the private and public life of playwright turned president Václav Havel. The film captures the life of the man who emblemizes the Velvet Revolution of November 1989 as well as the individual and collective yearnings of recent Czech history. Czech Consul General Eliška Žigová will introduce the film. Citizen Havel will be preceded by a special video of the former president, exclusively made for The Ironic Curtain.

Image from FERRARI DINO GIRLTwo other historically-minded films receive their North American premieres in a double bill: Jan Nĕmec’s The Ferrari Dino Girl and Jiří Střecha and Petr Slavík’s The Kind Revolution. In the former, the celebrated New Wave director dramatizes his daring race across the border to broadcast his footage of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague via Austrian TV. Pavel Jech, dean of Prague’s FAMU film school, will introduce the film. The Kind Revolution documents the Velvet Revolution, when riot police crushed a peaceful student rally in Prague, and the ensuing days of popular protest that led to the demise of Czech Communism. Czech Ambassador to the U.N. Martin Palouš will introduce.

Jan Hřebejk’s Divided We Fall, screening on Sunday, October 25 and Wednesday, October 28, literally translated as “we must help one another,” is a study in opportunism and helplessness that transcends its WWII setting; it was the third Czech film in a decade to be nominated for an Oscar and also swept the Lions (the Czech equivalent of the Academy Awards). “An excellent film.” – L.A. Times

Czech Film Center director Jana Černik will introduce.

Dostoevsky inspires the Closing Night film (Oct 29) in Petr Zelenka’s The Karamazovs, a darkly comedic show-within-a-show probing whether art imitates life or vice-versa, in its North American premiere. Freighted with the ghosts of politics past, the featured theater resides in a factory built under Stalin that later berths Walesa’s Solidarity movement, while the domestic betrayals, abandonments and unrequited longings that unravel haunt on a personal note. Q&A with Petr Zelenka.

Abandonment and unrequited desires likewise fill Bohdan Sláma’s intimate drama, Something Like Happiness. The film foregrounds the first post-communist generation-those who were just children in 1989 and have grown up in a freer yet less certain world. Actor Aňa Geislerová, a top star of the current Czech cinema, will introduce both Something Like Happiness and Saša Gedeon’s The Return of the Idiot. Irena Kovarova, Independent Film Programmer, will interview Ms. Geislerová after the Friday, October 23 screening of Something Like Happiness.

The fits and starts of free-market life similarly unsettle Empties‘ main character, displaced by mechanization, in the highest grossing Czech film of all time from Jan “Kolya” Svěrák. Producer Eric Abraham will introduce the screening of October 24.

The series’ 60s sidebar culls some of the high points of the Czech New Wave, including Miloš Forman’s Academy Award-nominated Loves of a Blonde, paired with Jan Švankmajer’s self-proclaimed “Work of Agitprop,” The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia, as well as Vĕra Chytilová’s Daisies. Daisies epitomized the Sixties sensibility that flowed in an era of liberalization but froze after Prague Spring in ’68.FAMU International Dean Michal Bregant will introduce the film. Jindřich Polák’s Voyage to the End of the Universe, which supposedly inspired Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s 1955 novel, The Magellanic Cloud. One of the former Czechoslovakia’s most outrageous and masterful black comedies is Juraj Herz’s The Cremator, a descent into madness that comments on Nazism’s rise. Chris Harwood, Lecturer in Czech at Columbia University, will introduce.


Finally, Hedy Lamarr stars in a special screening of Ecstasy, Gustav Machatý’s “dirty” 30s’ film featuring the first nude scene in cinema history. (Lamarr later revealed that Machatý was pricking her rear end with a safety pin to simulate spasms of desire.)

Accompanying the series is an exhibition, Off the Wall: The Art of Peter Sís, featuring drawings from the émigré author/illustrator’s beloved book, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) and a wall installation where visitors can submit wishes. The Wall portrays Sís’s coming-of-age struggle to preserve artistic freedom in Communist Prague–where he drew in secret and read banned books–and his eventual liberation through art. On view through November 19, in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery, Walter Reade Theater.

The Ironic Curtain was selected by independent curator Laura Blum and Richard Peña, Program Director, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, in collaboration with the Czech Film Center. It is sponsored by Koh-I-Noor. Additional support is provided by the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York; Strob, Sirc & Slovák; Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association; Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society; Pilsner Urquell; Jacob and Ruth Blum; Jeff Hush: Michael Wolkowitz; and the William Petschek Family. Grateful acknowledgement to National Film Archive in Prague; Czech Airlines; FAMU Academy of Film and Television, Prague; Tatra Travel; Czech Tourism USA; the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival; and Pilsen Finale. Opening and Closing Night receptions (following Citizen Havel and The Karamazovs, respectively) are catered by the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden and Pilsner Urquell. Off the Wall is supported by Koh-I-Noor, the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, Mary Ryan Gallery and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Co-curated by Jeff Hush, Desirée Alvarez and Laura Blum.

Film Descriptions

Citizen Havel / Občan Havel
Pavel Koutecký and Miroslav Janek, Czech Republic, 2008; 120m
Chronicling the private and public life of dissident playwright-turned-president Václav Havel, this Prague Castle confidential goes behind the tumultuous scenes of Czech politics from 1992 to 2003. Memorable moments include Havel primping for a 2002 NATO summit, Bill Clinton playing “Summertime” in a Prague jazz club, and Havel fumbling for keys to show the Rolling Stones the Castle balcony. Winner of the Czech Lion for Best Documentary, it’s a memorable tribute to Koutecký, a long-time friend of Havel’s who died in a freak accident before filming wrapped. Czech Consul General Eliška Zigová will introduce the film.
Fri Oct 23: 6:30pm

The Cremator / Spalovač mrtvol
Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 1969; 95m
What better way to enjoy Halloween than with this creepy black comedy set in a Czech crematorium in the ’30s? The titular anti-hero relishes his fiery métier, which he claims frees hide-bound souls from earthly suffering. The camera refracts his chaotic mind and country, as Nazism’s rise parallels his psychotic descent. Hallucinatory editing and deep-focus mise en scene combine with an indelibly ghoulish performance by Rudolf Hrusínský to make this study in dark shadows a masterwork well worth discovering.
Tue Oct 27: 9:00pm

Daisies / Sedmikrásky
Vera Chytilová, Czechoslovakia, 1966; 74m
“One of the most exhilarating stylistic and psychedelic eruptions of the ’60s.” ~Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
An avant-garde romp that launched Vera Chytilová as a symbol of the avant and the bane of the guard, this story of two sisters extravagantly misbehaving was banned by Communist authorities for its subversive high jinx (not to mention food wastage). It remains one of the high points of the Czech New Wave: episodic, chock full of Dadaist antics as well as implied social criticism. In short, the perfect foil to an authoritarian regime. Michal Bregant, dean of FAMU International, will introduce the film.
Tue Oct 27: 2:15pm
Thu Oct 29: 8:50pm

Divided We Fall / Musíme si pomáhat
Jan Hřebejk, Czech Republic, 2000; 122m
“In completely mad times, just holding onto your sanity can be an exceptional feat, and this excellent film shows how it’s done.” ~Los Angeles Times
Humor is rarely blacker than in this boudoir drama set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia: As couple reluctantly hides a Jewish escapee, a local Nazi collaborator with his romantic sites on the wife drops by whenever he gets the urge. Based on a true story, this gripping elegy to unwanted heroism offers no apologies for the strategies its characters use to survive. Divided We Fall swept the Czech Lions and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2001.
Sun Oct 25: 2:20pm
Wed Oct 28: 6:15pm

Ecstasy / Extáse
Gustav Machatý, Czechoslovakia/Austria, 1933; 87m
An unhappily married Eva falls for a seductive young Adam in this “adult” classic that made Hedy Lamarr a succès de scandale prior to her Hollywood debut. Much of the whispering about the film was stoked by a scene in which a very nude Lamarr swims in a lake and prances through a forest, often cited as the first nude scene in cinema history. Or did it come from the sustained close-up of her face during orgasm? Either way, Ecstasy remains a notorious middle step between silent films and talkies, pre-Code cinema and the censorship era.  
Sun Oct 25: 12:30pm

Empties / Vratné lahve
Jan Svěrák, Czech Republic/UK, 2007; 100m
After striking cinematic pay dirt with the Oscar-winning Kolya in 1996, father-and-son team Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák returned with the comic tale of a natural curmudgeon who ditches his teaching career to land a job in a pivotal position in the Czech economy: the bottle return department of the local supermarket. Jan Svěrák’s pitch-perfect tone never fully redeems his lead, while nevertheless letting you into his worldview. The approach worked with domestic audiences: Empties became the biggest box office success in Czech history. Producer Eric Abraham will introduce the Oct 24 screening.
Sat Oct 24: 6:00pm
Wed Oct 28: 2:15pm

The Ferrari Dino Girl / Holka Ferrari Dino
Jan Němec, Czech Republic, 2009; 68m
Where were you when Warsaw Pact troops took Prague on Aug. 21, 1968? Seminal New Wave director Jan Němec was out capturing the invasion on camera, from tanks rolling through the streets to civilians battling Soviet soldiers. Incorporating that full, unedited footage, Němec’s autobiographical thriller recounts his risky dash across the border-with an elusive young beauty-to broadcast the tragedy worldwide from Austrian television. Pavel Jech, dean of the famous Czech film school FAMU, will introduce the film.
screening with
The Kind Revolution / Nězná revoluce
Jiří Střecha and Petr Slavík, Czech Republic, 1990; 37m
On Nov. 17, 1989, riot police crushed a peaceful student protest in Prague. The mass demonstrations that followed signaled the beginning of the end of Czech Communism. The first film to document the events of the Gentle or Velvet Revolution presents images captured over ten days by a single unit from Czechoslovak television. The Kind Revolution is also a powerful manifesto of ideals and non-violent philosophy that would define the new, democratic state. Martin Palouš, Czech Ambassador to the U.N, is scheduled to introduce and discuss the film.
Fri Oct 23: 2:00pm
Sun Oct 25: 7:00pm

The Karamazovs / Karamazovi
Petr Zelenka, Czech Republic/Poland, 2008; 100m
Director Petr Zelenka in person
A Czech theater troupe stages The Brothers Karamazov at a Polish steelworks, but the drama on stage is more than matched by the off-stage shenanigans of the cast and their hosts. Dissecting Dostoevsky’s favorite themes of faith, doubt, and moral responsibility, ever-irreverent director Petr Zelenka situates the Velvet Revolution in the larger context of Eastern Bloc change wrought by the collapse of Communism. Life and death imitate art–or is it vice versa? Mr. Zelenka will discuss the film.
Thu Oct 29: 6:15pm

Loves of a Blonde / Lásky jedné plavovlásky
Miloš Forman, Czechoslovakia, 1965; 88m
A breakthrough film for both Milos Forman and Czech cinema, Loves of a Blonde chronicles the misadventures of a naive teen after she sleeps with a piano player passing through her hick town on a gig. This gently rebellious satire breaks with the Socialist realism of state-approved studio fare to take a Truffaut-esque look at pre-adult life in all its glorious awkwardness. Forman’s film school classmate and fellow New Wave pioneer Ivan Passer co-wrote the screenplay.
screening with
The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia / Konec stalinismu v Čechách
Jan Švankmajer, UK, 1990; 10m 
Working in stop-motion clay animation and documentary, master image-maker Jan Svankmajer serves up a phantasmagoria of sights and sounds that survey Czech history from the end of World War II to the fall of the Communist regime. Time flies when Švankmajer is having fun.
Fri Oct 23 4:15pm
Wed Oct 28: 8:40pm

The Return of the Idiot / Návrat idiota
Saša Gedeon, Czech Republic/Germany, 1999; 100m
Actor Aňa Geislerová in person
“One of the most original and inventive pics out of Central Europe in some time.” ~Variety
This loose adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot follows a wise fool who leaves an asylum and enters the lives of four romantically linked friends. What he lacks in ego and guile he more than makes up for in insight and goodness, but that’s simply not enough to save the unhappy people around him. A contemporary, serio-comic, yet sensitive dissection of the human heart in the sticky thrall of relationships, The Return of the Idiot won five Czech Lions. Aňa Geislerová, one of the top stars of the new Czech cinema, will introduce and discuss the film.
screening with
Czech Peace / Český mir
Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák, Czech Republic, 2004; 19m
The merry pranksters behind Czech Dream present a sneak preview of their newest documentary, a pre-war comedy about current U.S. plans to install a radar base on Czech soil.
Sat Oct 24: 8:00pm
Tue Oct 27: 4:00pm

Some Secrets / Výlet
Alice Nellis, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2002; 93m
Iva Bittová in person
Personal and political histories intertwine during a family road trip to scatter a patriarch’s ashes over the Czech-Slovak border. But with two wayward daughters and two generations of men orbiting the far side of comprehension, the family has more than one frontier to cross. Inspired by William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Nellis’s prize-winning drama fearlessly confronts its political implications while allowing us to form our own opinions about the characters. Singer/actor Iva Bittová, who starred in another Alice Nellis film, will be on hand to introduce the film.
Sun Oct 25: 4:45pm
Wed Oct 28: 4:15pm

Something Like Happiness / Stěstí
Bohdan Sláma, Czech Republic/Germany, 2005; 102m
Actor Aňa Geislerová in person
“A thoughtfully performed, gently quirky human drama about choices made and their often surprising consequences.” ~The Hollywood Reporter
Three friends who came of age in the same housing project grapple with loneliness and unrequited desires. Their strained companionship is made even more complicated when a fragile young mother (Aňa Geislerová, one of the top stars of the new Czech cinema) is institutionalized and forced to give up her children. Something Like Happiness is one of the most perceptive, most deeply affecting looks at the first post-communist generation. Winner of eight Czech Lions and screened at the 2005 New York Film Festival. Ms. Geislerová will introduce and discuss the film.
Fri Oct 23: 9:10pm
Thu Oct 29: 2:15pm

Voyage to the End of the Universe / Ikarie XB 1
Jindřich Polák, Czechoslovakia, 1963; 87m
2163. Starship Ikarus XB 1 is off in search of intelligent life in the Alpha Centauri solar system. Along the way, the would-be colonists encounter all manner of unforeseen dilemmas, including internal dissent, UFOs, computer malfunctions, and a mind-frying black hole. Czechoslovakia’s maiden foray into sci fi so resembles Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry must have seen it beforehand. Stanley Kubrick allegedly did, while experimenting with effects technology for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Sun Oct 25: 9:15pm
Thu Oct 29: 4:20pm

What’s playing when

Friday, Oct. 23
2:00     The Ferrari Dino Girl,
with The Kind Revolution
4:15     Loves of a Blonde,
with The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia
6:30     Citizen Havel
9:10     Something Like Happiness

Saturday, Oct. 24
6:00     Empties
8:00     The Return of the Idiot,
with Czech Peace

Sunday, Oct. 25
12:30   Ecstasy
2:20     Divided We Fall
4:45     Some Secrets
7:00     The Ferrari Dino Girl,
with The Kind Revolution
9:15     Voyage to the End of the Universe

Tuesday, Oct. 27
2:15     Daisies
4:00     The Return of the Idiot,
with Czech Peace
9:00     The Cremator

Wednesday, Oct. 28
2:15     Empties
4:15     Some Secrets
6:15     Divided We Fall
8:40     Loves of a Blonde,
with The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia

Thursday, Oct. 29
2:15     Something Like Happiness
4:20     Voyage to the End of the Universe
6:15     The Karamazovs
8:50     Daisies

Screenings will be held at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, located at 165 West 65th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

Single screening tickets are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). Tickets are available at the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at

For complete information, visit, or call (212) 875-5601.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center was founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, to recognize and support new directors, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of film. Advancing this mandate today, The Film Society hosts two distinguished festivals-The New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films-as well as the annual Gala Tribute, celebrating an actor or filmmaker who has helped distinguish cinema as an art form, and a year-round calendar of programming at its Walter Reade Theater. It also offers definitive examinations of essential films and artists to a worldwide audience through Film Comment magazine.


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