Czech Modernism in Film: The 1920s to the 1940s | Festival | Chicago Reader

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Czech Modernism in Film: The 1920s to the 1940s

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Drawn from the Anthology Film Archive in New York and the National Film Archive in Prague, this series examines modernism in Czech films from the silent to the postwar era. A dozen features screen at Facets Cinematheque through Thursday, February 22; for a complete schedule visit www.facets.org.

RCrisis This 1939 documentary about Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia still packs a wallop, though certain passages of earnest commentary, like the paeans to labor solidarity, now feel dated. Every act of Nazi aggression and appeasement by the other European powers is chronicled, showing how the country fell shortly after the 1938 annexation of Austria. Hitler's divide-and-conquer strategy of inflaming tensions among local ethnic populations dominates this tragic history, which also explains how his German-speaking Sudetenland supporters aided his takeover by undermining the Czech government. American filmmaker Herbert Kline codirected with Czechs Hans Burger and Alexandr Hackenschmied (the avant-garde icon who became Alexander Hammid once he emigrated to the United States). In Czech with subtitles. 71 min. (AG) a Mon 2/19, 8:45 PM.

RThe Distant Journey Czech director Alfred Radok lost his father and grandfather in the Holocaust and spent several months in a detention camp himself, which makes the poetic control of his 1949 drama--the first to confront the subject--even more impressive. He carefully charts the growing anti-Semitic persecution in Prague, as a Jewish doctor tries to protect herself by marrying a gentile, then watches her relatives being shipped off to a transport camp in Terezin. Though the movie is filled with striking expressionist images, Radok also weaves in documentary footage of the Third Reich, telescoping the dramatic action into a frame within the frame that echoes the victims' powerlessness. In Czech with subtitles. 103 min. (JJ) a Wed 2/21, 8:30 PM, and Thu 2/22, 7 PM.

RFrom Saturday to Sunday Gustav Machaty started in silent films as an actor, then learned to direct in Hollywood as an apprentice to D.W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim. In this 1931 Czech feature, his first talkie, he engages the new technology with inventive playfulness and leavens his Depression-era story with subtle humor. A shy typist is recruited for a night on the town by her wanton girlfriend, and after the friend's sugar daddy insults the heroine by offering to pay her for sex, she wanders forlornly through Prague until

rescued by a chivalrous man of the people. Though not as graphic as Machaty's notorious Ecstasy (1933), this compact melodrama takes a sophisticated approach to love, treating sex frankly and romance skeptically. In Czech with subtitles. 72 min. (AG)

a Sat 2/17, 8:45 PM.

RHeave Ho! Released in 1934, this proletarian comedy delivers such wacky delights as a musical number in which stars Jan Werich and Jiri Voskovec cavort before a giant bar graph of rising unemployment. Werich plays a factory owner who's ruined by a scheming competitor, and Voskovec is the revolutionary-minded worker who shows him how the other half lives. Their adventures on the road play like a Laurel and Hardy version of Sullivan's Travels, though the balance of the film centers on the factory's revival by a jubilant workers' collective. A popular comedy team in Czechoslovakia, Werich and Voskovec fled to the U.S. in 1939, where Voskovec, using the name George, enjoyed a long career as a character actor (most memorably in 12 Angry Men). Martin Fric directed. In Czech with subtitles. 87 min. (JJ) a Tue 2/20, 7 PM, and Thu 2/22, 9 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Heave Ho!.

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