Velvet Overground


After more than a decade, Václav Havel’s Velvet Revolution is finally bearing fruit in a New New Wave of vibrant Czech cinema. The most exuberant among the five features in this series of recent films by youngish auteurs (all under 50) is The Rebels, director Filip Renc’s candy-colored, semi-camp musical cartoonishly evoking the heady days of the 1968 Prague Spring through the experiences of a group of six teenagers. Oblivious to both the brief stirrings of democracy and to the impending Soviet crackdown, giddy girls meet boys—yet the state has shocks in store. Renc’s style is wannabe Jacques Demy; but don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along to stirring Czech renditions of period standards like Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” or if you’re strangely moved by this fluffy film’s bittersweet conclusion.

Anomie afflicts the current generation in Parallel Worlds (2001), Petr Václav’s anatomy of a failing relationship. Krystof, a Prague architect, lives with Tereza, a translator. While he labors constantly, she wonders if they’ll ever be able to build something substantial between them. Václav, who also wrote the script, has a keen sense of the ways in which work and consumption contaminate private affairs. Wildly surreal dream sequences punctuate scenes of muted daytime conversation between characters who appear to be sleepwalking through an alienated existence.

Life in the countryside fares a bit better in Wild Bees (2001). Loosely directed by Bohdan Sláma, this lusty and poetically absurdist comedy is set in the hinterlands of rural Northern Moravia, where the day begins with a bit of schnapps and a pickle, and ends with a roll in the hay. A gentle woodcutter from a family filled with boozing women has a crush on a local beauty, a grocery store clerk. Yet she’s already involved with the town’s Michael Jackson impersonator, a figure meant to embody creeping Americanization. Sláma likes to set up scenes where so much is going on that you can’t possibly follow them. But the film’s lush atmosphere finally carries the day. —

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