A Czech New Wave Master Rediscovered: The Films of Pavel Juracek | Festival | Chicago Reader

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A Czech New Wave Master Rediscovered: The Films of Pavel Juracek

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Presented by Facets Cinematheque and the Czech Center New York, this retrospective series on writer-director Pavel Juracek runs Friday through Thursday, April 9 through 15, at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton. Tickets are $9, $5 for Facets members; for more information call 773-281-9075. Programs marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

* Case for a Rookie Hangman

See Critic's Choice. (7:00, 9:00)

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

The Key for Determining Dwarfs, or the Last Travel of Lemuel Gulliver

Martin Sulik sifts through Juracek's mordant and voluminous diaries to create this impressionistic 2003 portrait of an artist continually on the verge of cracking up. Reports of pressure from state apparatchiks are sandwiched between deadpan observations like "They finally picked a Miss Czechoslovakia" and "It says on the bathroom wall that Veronika's got a lover" (a humiliating reference to his promiscuous wife). Intense highs of feverish creativity play out against a dark social backdrop as the Prague Spring of 1968 is crushed by Soviet tanks, and footage of Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale being worshipped at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival contrasts absurdly with harrowing accounts of political censorship. Especially piquant is the casting of Marek Juracek to reenact scenes from his father's remarkable but sadly truncated life. In Czech with subtitles. 58 min. (Andrea Gronvall) Completing the program is Joseph Kilian (1963, 38 min.), codirected by Juracek and Jan Schmidt. (7:00, 9:00)

SUNDAY, APRIL 11

Early works

Zdenek Sirovy's Keeper of Dynamite (1960, 23 min.), which Juracek adapted from a story by Jan Drda, is a spare yet engrossing World War II drama about an unassuming supply clerk in occupied Czechoslovakia who conspires with his wife to thwart the Nazis' depredations and then falls in with saboteurs who are blowing up transport trains. Much subtler is the sweetly melancholic Every Young Man (1965, 83 min.), Juracek's first solo directing effort. The first of its two segments follows a pair of soldiers on leave in an orderly but soulless city where they encounter an enigmatic blond in various guises; the second deals with the absurdity of army life, as their company ineptly practices maneuvers amid unfazed peasants. Both films are in Czech with subtitles. (Andrea Gronvall) (3:00, 5:00)

MONDAY, APRIL 12

* End of August at the Hotel Ozone

Jan Schmidt's grim Czech parable (1967) unfolds in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust as a disparate group of women try to survive in an unyielding landscape. The first half painstakingly documents their tenacity and physical courage, but then their strict social order is threatened by the emergence of an older man who's determined to preserve any physical reminder of the past. Juracek's script is extremely discomfiting, and the severe tone leaves no room for catharsis; this is punishing but also provocative. In Czech with subtitles. 77 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (7:00, 9:00)

TUESDAY, APRIL 13

Voyage to the End of the Universe

Written by Juracek, this Czech SF feature (1963) borrows substantially and without acknowledgment from Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel Solaris: in the late 22nd century a space crew transporting colonists to a distant planet are plagued by strange occurrences, sexual tension, and mental breakdown. The movie is badly marred by Juracek's didactic celebration of communist utopia, though Jan Kalis's painterly black-and-white cinematography adds to the sleek, impressively stylized look. Jindrich Polak directed. In Czech with subtitles. 83 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (7:00, 9:00)

THURSDAY, APRIL 15

The Jester's Tale

In this engaging 1964 feature a mercenary soldier and his Falstaffian sidekick take elaborate measures to evade allegiance to either the Catholics or the Protestants during the Thirty Years War. Juracek's script provides some biting commentary on the absurdity of war, and director Karel Zeman creates a stylistic hybrid of baroque chiaroscuro lighting, animated sequences, and sword fights choreographed like musical numbers. This works better as a series of set pieces than as a coherent narrative, but it's consistently exuberant. In Czech with subtitles. 81 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (7:00, 9:00)

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