BAM’s annual micro-retro of what’s contemporary in Czech Republic cinema comes equipped this year with a number of humdingers, startlingly original and otherwise. B Gunarsson’s Bitter Coffee is merely a superbly written, small-town slice-of-petty-bourgeois-life, while Marek Najbrt’s Champions seems on our turf a vicious riposte to Hollywood sports movies—the narrative centers on Czechoslovakia’s unlikely and nationally beloved Olympic-hockey triumph over the occupying Soviets in 1969, but sees the games only as televised irony viewed by a sad, grungy village beset by drink, poverty, spite, and betrayal.
Of the old guard, only Czech New Wave provocateur Jan Nemec checks in, with the modest but restlessly inventive video diary Landscape of My Heart, chronicling his interior ebb and flow during heart surgery he had in 2002—a trauma enacted on the same day that George W. Bush visited Prague. But the series’ high points are wacko work by first-timers. David Jarab’s Vaterland: A Hunting Logbook begins with a wary descent of four men upon their decaying aristocratic homestead somewhere in the Mitteleuropan wilderness, complete with film crew and recalcitrant servants. Their purpose: to engage in their clan’s traditional old-world hunt for . . . what the hell? Rough-hewn, bizarre, and confidently forging deranged metaphoric statements about class war and patriarchy, Jarab’s mystery tour is a brave gamble, with secrets to burn.
Far more accessible, Czech Dream is a document of a socioeconomic film-school stunt: Student cineastes Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda decide to interrogate their nation’s newborn mega-consumerism by launching a vast advertising campaign hawking a huge “hypermarket” that doesn’t actually exist. Ad men, image consultants, and marketeers, eager to prove their dominance, happily come on board, all of it spiraling down to the moment when thousands of Czech citizens appear at the grand opening (in the middle of a meadow) and end up holding nothing but their own naked frustration. Spontaneously morphing into a critique of the European Union, the movie is an eloquent slam, forthrightly dishonest and interrupted by product plugs.