A Focus on the Slovak and Czech Films in Karlovy Vary

in 49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Viliam Jablonický

In addition to major domestic international festivals in Slovakia — Artfilm Trencianske Teplice and Bratislava Film Festival — and smaller specialized events such as Etnofilm, Mountain Film Festival and animatedBAB, Slovak films find their way onto the international stage through the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and other major film events around the world. There are many Czech-Slovak coproductions, and Slovak and Czech actors, directors, cinematographers and composers operate almost inseparably in both cultures. Film historian and statistician Štefan Vraštiak states that from 1946 to 2013 324 Slovak films received 47 international important awards.

The main competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival presented two films from the former Czechoslovakia. Fair Play, a Czech-Slovak coproduction with German contribution, directed by Andrey Sedlácková, exposes contemporary societal barriers on the background of a moral failure in sports during the 1980s, as “communist socialism” ideologists tried to obtain victory at the expence of the health of the competitors, doping them with the help of coaches and doctors. The Slovak actors in Fair Play, Judit Bárdos and Roman Luknár, created major challenges for the exclusively Czech production, also in competition, Nowhere in Moravia (Díra u Hanušovic). The cast includes Slovak comic actors Lukáš Latiná kand Ján Kozuch, although only in supporting roles. The tragicomic view shows the heavy and dreary life in a rural Moravian village from which barely anybody can escape. The film excels in its use of beautiful regional language and the characterization of regional local color. The first time director Miroslav Krobotis only recently became one of the most famous Czech character actors, after a long career in the Dejvické Theatre in Prague. His last significant artistic contributions to cinema were Alois Nebel and the Slovak-Czech co-production House.

I want to call attention to the documentary films competition, where Czech and Slovak films participated in the over sixty minutes category. The world premiere of Comeback shed light on the talented and ambitious Slovak Miro Remo (born in 1983). His creative potential was already on display in the short film Arsy-Versy which received prestigious awards in international festivals such as Camerimage. His new film, coproduced by three Bratislava institutions, deals with the almost unsolvable life stories of criminals, big and small, who spend most of their lives in prison. The greatest strength of the film is in the first part where the director authentically chronicles the lives of notorious criminals who constantly return to prison because they do not respect the laws of civil society.

In Jana Ševcíková Czech title Lean a Ladder Against Heaven (Oprizebrík o nebe), an incredibly dramatic struggle for survival is played against the background of the magic and metaphysic Slovak Alps — High Tatras. With extraordinary ingenuity, pragmatism but also charitable evangelization, Marian Catholic priest Kuffa saves more than two hundred people who have fallen to the lowest possible depth. Whether homeless due to alcohol and drug abuse, or growing up in orphanages, they are physically and mentally disturbed. It’s a life of self-sacrifice, but instead of heroism we see the internal doubts of a hero who has his own unfulfilled dream of a normal family away from this modern hell, where all people are totally dependent on him.

Also deserving attention are two Czech and Slovak coproductions, both dealing with lesser known circumstances and events of World War II. Eugenic Minds (Eugéniové), a documentary by Pavel Štingl, unmasks the development of Nazi ideology in the degenerate theory of eugenics which led to millions of innocent victims. And In Silence (V tichu) by Zdenek Jirásky is a drama about the tragic fate of talented Jewish musicians from Slovakia.

Edited by Yael Shuv