Czech Totalitarian Life Square in the Eye

Forever overshadowed internationally by the nouvelle vague, the decade-long Prague Spring, whence came Czech voices like Milos Forman, Ivan Passer, and Frantisek Vlácil, may be the most poignant of the New Waves: short-lived, vibrantly intimate, and dizzy with absurdist élan. From its forgotten corners comes this fascinating omnibus film: five shorts directed by movement powerhouses Jirí Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm, Vera Chytilová, and Jaromil Jires, all based on semi-surrealist tales by national literary lion Bohumil Hrabal. (In 1994, Hrabal was still famous enough to warrant a detour for visiting President Clinton, and the two hit the local public house for a beer.) Generally anarchist and scaldingly farcical, the films look totalitarian life square in the eye, but they're also living testaments to the era's lovable, grungy Euro-slacker esprit. The standout chunk—perhaps because it risks the bank—is Chytilová's wicked, free-form comedy about an all-night beer café turned upside down by the appearance of a corpse, but all five films are compelling time capsules of defiance and love. Supplemented by a chatty booklet of background info.

 
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