Best 60s New Wave Czechoslovak Movies, Ranked
While America was in its war of attrition with censorship and regulation, Europe was in the midst of its own cinematic revolution. From 1960, with the release of Jean-Luc Godard Breathless, Ushering in the French New Wave, Europeans followed with their own kind of creative and experimental cinema. Czechoslovakia is a country that has suddenly emerged as a heavyweight; emerging from their difficulties in World War II as a more thoughtful and hardened country. The political and economic crisis of the decade deepened cultural resentment, ushering in an era of in-depth exploration and assessments. Here are some of his best works:
5 Daisies (1966)
Directed by Vera Chitilova, the film follows the lives of two college girls wandering through life without a care in the world, until circumstances beyond their control force them to come to terms with the state of their controlled lives. A clear and stark critique of the communist regime that plagued the country in the 1960s. Chitilova attempted to create an absurd yet relatable story about the plight of young women, exploring in depth subjugation and control through succinct metaphors on love, sex, drugs and alcohol. There is an intense sadness behind all the glamor depicted, which makes it clear how society is equally responsible for accepting this form of psychological torture (a very common point in almost all Czechoslovak New Wave works ). Its brilliant use of editing and tinted lighting gives it a dreamy quality, enhancing the experience as one where every viewer gets something out of it.
4 The Loves of a Blonde (1965)
Milos Forman, the legendary director of Hollywood classics like Flight over a cuckoo’s nest and Amedee, began his career during the Czechoslovak New Wave as a young director with a passion for the banal. His previous company, Black stone, earned him critical acclaim. He followed up with another masterful exploration of lust and youth, introducing us to a curious, introverted young girl looking for a partner to love and live with. After a brief but passionate night with a pianist, she decides to pursue him, only to discover, by a twist of fate, that his living conditions are not conducive to comfort. The film boils down to a fantastic exploration of desire and dream, and their sometimes remoteness from reality. Its concluding message, to move on from those desires and accept your position in the world you live in, is a stark reminder of what awaits those who don’t know it and ultimately fly too close to the sun.
3 The Firemen’s Ball (1967)
Another of Forman’s films, the story follows a group of firefighters and their antics in the midst of an annual celebration. Things start to get out of hand, and before they know it, their night is completely sabotaged. A cynical comedy showcasing the darker, more bureaucratic side of the country’s communism, it’s a fine critique of its society and the myriad ways it attempts to exploit its members in an almost interconnected fashion. Scarcity is brilliantly represented through the “no honor among thieves” trope, showing us the degrading lengths people have to go through to survive in such a place. The film’s conclusion is a stark reminder of the cost of indifference and plunder, as an old man finds himself homeless and hopeless due to the nature of the society he lives in. Foreman captures the essence of misery by juxtaposing every action with a reaction, showcasing the downright absurd trickle effect.
2 Diamonds of the Night (1964)
Jan Nemec delivers a powerful reflection on war as he follows the lives of two child soldiers trying to escape in the trenches of World War II. Nemec’s use of editing and surreal imagery keeps viewers in disarray on an almost hypnotic level. Its unreliable narrator, the camera itself, brings even more mystery into the realm, forcing viewers to interpret what we see with cautious eyes. Although a prejudice in some stories, it works wonderfully in his favor by increasing the tension between the game of cat and mouse in which the soldiers are engaged. The ending is simply riveting, leaving the fate of the soldiers completely open to interpretation. Still, it’s clear that no matter what has happened to them, the world they inhabit is cruel and unnerving, forever keeping them on edge.
1 Closely Watched Trains (1966)
Another WWII hug, Jiri Menzel presents us with a poignant picture of the aftermath of war. Although slow in its presentation, it begins to degenerate into utter chaos; all the while you wonder exactly what you were seeing in the first place. It follows the life of a young man unperturbed by current circumstances, as he tries to wow a girl. His predilection takes him to places he should never have dared to cross, resulting in a dangerous situation with little chance of escape. Menzel intended to capture the hardship and sacrifice required to exist in such an environment. He constantly keeps you on his toes at every moment, knowing full well that one wrong move can result in the complete destruction of the main characters and his hometown. There is a hint of cynical humor present throughout, almost as a necessity. The trains themselves take on new meaning, symbolizing hope and despair while expressing passing time and opportunity. It’s the type of film that leaves you in a perpetual state of contemplation, inviting the viewer to reflect and acknowledge.