Czech it out! | Bleader

Czech it out!

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Some of the unhappy souls of the Czech documentary Matchmaking Mayor
  • Some of the unhappy souls of the Czech documentary Matchmaking Mayor
This past weekend a touring series of recent films from the Czech Republic opened at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The six selections playing throughout the month include period pieces, satirical comedies, and one documentary, Matchmaking Mayor. As a fan of Czech movies from the 60s and 70s—namely, the comedies of Milos Forman (Loves of a Blonde, The Fireman’s Ball) and Vera Chytilova (Fruit of Paradise, The Apple Game)—I’m excited to see what this national cinema has been up to. The so-called Czech New Wave to which Forman and Chytilova belonged advanced a bitter sense of humor that made light of everyday pettiness and disappointment. That sentiment was nurtured, so to speak, by decades of life under communist bureaucracy, but the nation’s great filmmakers employed it to illuminate a universal condition. And judging from Matchmaking Mayor—a deadpan portrait of an overreaching public official—that condition remains alive and well.

It’s a good season to catch up with this area of film history. The Criterion Collection recently put out a box set of Czech classics under their Eclipse imprint, and the package includes Chytilova’s masterpiece Daisies and Jan Nemec’s highly regarded satire A Report on the Party and the Guests. These films reflect a freewheeling sensibility that occasionally crosses into out-and-out surrealism, suggesting a middle ground between the character comedies of Forman and Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting) and the strange animations of Karel Zeman and Jan Svankmajer. The current touring series is a decent point of entry for Czech movies, but look deeper and you’ll find a cinema history like no other in the world.

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