New English-friendly film series spotlights classics of Czechoslovak-era cinema

Kino Lucerna's project kicks off with Miloš Forman’s debut feature, followed by a film banned during communism that won accolades after 1990.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 09.02.2023 12:00:00 (updated on 09.02.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Starting next week, Prague’s Kino Lucerna is reacquainting audiences with classics of Czechoslovak film, which will screen in its small hall twice a month with English subtitles. The first two offerings are “Ucho” (The Ear) from director Karel Kachyňa, and internationally acclaimed director Miloš Forman’s first film, “Černý Petr” (Black Peter).

After communist ban, ‘The Ear’ earns accolades at Venice International Film Festival

Made in 1970, the psychological drama was banned by communist authorities due to its subject matter. A collaboration between director Karel Kachyna and screenwriter Jan Procházka, the movie’s plot revolves around a deputy minister and his wife, who find an “ear,” meaning a listening device, in their home, a sign that they were being monitored. Set in the 1950s, the story references the political trials that purged the communist party elite during that decade. 

The film was made thanks to the liberalization in the 1960s that ended with the Prague Spring. Kachyňa said that he and Procházka were aware “we didn’t have much time,” according to Total Film.

Procházka incorporated his “knowledge of the environment and figures in the Communist Party apparatus” into the plot, whose power comes from the blurring of reality into an ominous atmosphere.

The movie was finally presented to the public in 1990. Additionally, its digitally restored version of the film received a world premiere last year at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, in the Venice Classics section, after which it was shown in cinemas throughout the Czech Republic. 

‘Black Peter’ shows the sorrows and joys of 1960s youth

Forman’s 1964 debut is, at the same time, one of the best-known features of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Its protagonist, 16-year-old Peter, is spending his summer working as a salesman, although, in true teenager fashion, his mind is elsewhere – both on the fashionably-dressed young women who surround him, and also on his father’s reproaches.

Due to the film’s limited budget, Forman cast non-actors in some of the leading roles, which contributed to the air of authenticity that pervades dialogues and interactions. In the words of film critic Ivan Sviták, who praised the film’s “looseness and lightness,” stories that are part of the plot “are interwoven with documentary-style views that complete the atmosphere of 'fun' and the typology of characters."

To achieve that result, Forman said he never showed actors the script, but instead explained his vision of each scene. “I had to make sure they knew what it was about and how their characters felt about it,” Forman added.

The Made in Czechoslovakia Film series debuts at Kino Lucerna with "The Ear" on Feb. 16 and “Černý Petr” on Feb. 28. The series will continue next month, watch the cinema's web page for updates.

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