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Czech That Film Tour 2017: I, Olga Hepnarova, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

In July, 1973, Olga Hepnarová, then twenty-one years old, purposefully drove a truck into a crowd of pedestrians waiting for a tram. Eight were killed, and, two years later, Hepnarová was executed under the Communist government of Czechoslovakia for the crime. Though the Soviet state that she claimed to be enacting revenge upon has since passed, the bracing, random nature of her crime, and the method of its commission, ought to ring a bell to viewers remembering the slaughters in Nice in 2016 and Stockholm more recently. Her place as an isolated, queer outsider, might feel reminiscent of the Columbine shootings in Colorado in 1999. Indeed, the very fact of her mass killing stretches across the world and across our history, even, almost certainly, into the future.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Teacher, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

Social systems have a tendency to self-replicate, and therefore self-reinforce, all the way down the ladder, forming a fractal pattern, a series of the same values and, often, the same abuses. Growing up in a capitalist system, children learn to be good little mini-businesspeople, trading candy at lunchtime and favors after school. Learning to exist according to class, the janitor’s kid soon knows to pay deference to his friend, the banker’s son. In fiction, it’s often these small-scale replications that are the most fruitful, the most intimate and powerful. Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher is certainly one of these, the story of a small classroom in 1983 Czechoslovakia, dominated by a dictatorial teacher, who begins each school year by taking down the occupations of her student’s parents, a helpful guidebook for an extortion scheme revolving around petty favors rendered in exchange for good grades.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: Tiger Theory, by Dayne Linford

25 Apr

I’ve always been a huge fan of the comedic subgenre surrounding the “battle of the sexes” – women and men pitted against each other, usually ending in a tempestuous and hilarious romance. Your standard romantic comedies are a derivation of what Shakespeare perfected, though they never seem to go quite far enough. To work, it must be an actual battle – that is, two equal, individualized forces pitted against each other. There’s more to Beatrice and Benedict than gender, and more to them together than alone. Many, many variations on this theme can be found throughout Western storytelling, of which Radek Bajgar’s Tiger Theory is another, sadly inferior take. Though well-written, often honestly funny, and well-acted throughout, Tiger Theory forgets the most important rule – we must be on both sides at once, or it’s boring.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: Little From the Fish Shop, by Dayne Linford

24 Apr

It’s hard to think of a story as oft-told as that concerning the diminutive mermaid who wanted to be human. Even before Hans Christian Anderson found a way to assert that the mermaid would make it into heaven, the story was a well-known children’s tale, and there’s got to be scores of tellings under the auspices of Disney’s renditions alone. Despite all of that, there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s anywhere near as interesting, troubling, and moving a rendition as Jan Balej’s stop-motion animated take, Little from the Fish Shop.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Noonday Witch, by Dayne Linford

21 Apr

At their weakest, horror movies can be boiled down to one or two “gotcha” elements, thematic or environmental springboards which carry the weight of the vulnerabilities and anxieties supposedly expressed in the piece. TVs in The Ring, showers in Psycho; at their strongest, however, theme and environment are one and the same – the shower in Psycho is not scary because showers are vulnerable and scary, though they are. The shower in Psycho is scary because Norman Bates is scary, and Norman Bates has a key, and a peephole, to that shower. He has a way into our intimate places, and can expose and exploit our secret vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, The Noonday Witch is not one of these movies, and it hopes that the terror of a heat-induced mental breakdown will be enough. If it’s not enough for Psycho, it’s not enough for anybody.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Snake Brothers, by Dayne Linford

20 Apr

In the myopia of one’s own life, staring down the barrel of whatever salve you use to get through the day, it’s hard to see the ways your life is shaped by the culture and society around you. Sometimes you never see past that barrel. Jan Prusinovský’s The Snake Brothers is a film about that kind of myopia, and one brother’s attempt to find some modicum of success in his middle-age despite the destructive presence of his younger brother and, though he never quite considers it, the cannibalistic nature of his own society and the people surrounding him.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Devil’s Mistress, by Dayne Linford

18 Apr

Czech That Film is an annual traveling festival showcasing the best in contemporary Czech cinema in theaters around the U.S. A schedule of showings and events can be found here – www.czechthatfilm.com

Nazi movies are a dime a dozen and why not? World War Two is the historical event of the last century most of the world over, and, when the last big things in American history were the Civil War and the West, there was no shortage of westerns, either. Though, like with Westerns, the process of becoming a genre carries with it inevitable clichés, well-trodden paths and obvious drum beats. More importantly, it also carries the weight, so often elided in westerns, of working out your place in history, and history’s place in yourself. Perhaps there’s always a new Nazi film around the corner because we still haven’t exorcised the ghosts of that war, still haven’t resolved the great evil it embodied and unleashed upon the world. Not perhaps – certainly. At least, that’s certainly what lies behind the recent Czech film The Devil’s Mistress, currently being shown on a film tour of contemporary Czech cinema around the U.S. Though a fairly straightforward biopic of the silent film star Lida Baarová (Tatiana Pauhofová), Filip Renc’s film is only as it could be made in the Czech Republic – replete with the sense of doomed history, moral compromise, and the essential mysteries of motivation, love, and personal culpability.

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