A Place to Take a Breath

The film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.

Freedom was the key word for life and work of Miloš Forman

The biographical pictures Forman vs. Forman (2019) by Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease (2019) by Olga Sommerová tell stories about quest for freedom. The first one is set in the normalization Czechoslovakia and the second one in exile. They show Miloš Forman and Jiří Suchý coping with schizophrenic reality of the totalitarian society, which forces artists to decide between freedom and home. 

Miloš Forman counts among filmmakers who did not plan to emigrate. He was abroad when the occupation came and he was deciding whether to come or not to come back to his homeland, which changed into a trap during his absence. It was freedom redeemed by broken family bonds. Forman did not see his sons for seven years and his first marriage did not survive the exile. Třeštíková and Hajný highlight the topic of freedom and uprootedness, which goes back to director´s early childhood marked by the death of his parents in the concentration camp and his dreadful memories of the gestapo. An emotional compiled collage is permeated by rich archive materials showing dramatic social changes. The authors Třeštíková and Hejna managed once again – as in the story of Lída Baarová depicted in the film Doomed Beauty from 2016 – to interlink intimacy of a time-collecting documentary with the dramatic character of the conflict between personal history of an individual and great history of the society.

Forman´s film Audition represents initiatory experience for Helena Třeštíková. Works of the Czechoslovak new wave brought unbelievable authenticity to the cinema screens. However, not even a trivial everydayness can be apolitical in an environment which propagates doctrine of social realism. An inner conflict between the character and the environment of Forman´s early works continues also in his epic American stories. The topic of freedom is given a considerable space in excerpts from the films One Flew Over the Cuckoo´s Nest (1975), Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981) or The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). The example of Amadeus (1984) shows schizophrenia of the system which betrays its own principles. The very same regime allowed its once citizen to shoot an epic for Americans in Prague and kept another artist, Václav Havel, in prison at the same time. After leaving for the exile, Forman meets another type of absence of freedom. “Nowhere are we free. However, if I should choose between lying at the mercy of an idiot or a viewer, the choice is clear.” The author comes to a conclusion that repression exists everywhere, but commercial pressure is more bearable than the ideological one.

Jiří Suchý tried to find his creative freedom within the system and by cementing people through entertainment free of any ideological order

The story Tackling Life with Easy (2019) about Jiří Suchý is less political. Instead of highlighting historical context, Sommerová underlines mainly personal experience of the main character. However, not only tragedies like Suchý´s first wife Běla´s and Jiří Šlitr´s deaths are shown. Political evens resonate, too. Semafor theatre became a society-wide phenomenon and its founders created a space for non-regime entertainment where people came to “breathe some fresh air”. Archive scenes showing burning Soviet tanks and shooting in the streets during the occupation are emotively tinged with the song by Suchý and Šlitr Jo, to jsem ještě žil from 1969. When the occupation started, Suchý and his wife were abroad. Personal reasons make him return home. He “is not an emigrant type” and his decision grows into a gesture of national loyalty. When he unexpectedly appears on the stage in Semafor theatre, the audience, thinking he is in London, gives him the greatest applause in his life. “People were glad that there is also someone who comes back.”

Though neither Forman nor Suchý belonged among dissidents, their stories did not remain apolitical. Třeštíková with Hejna and Sommerová as well extended a portrait of an individual with collective historic experience and showed how it is possible to deal with a repressive system. Suchý did so by finding his creative freedom within the system and by cementing people through entertainment free of any ideological order. Forman built up his new home abroad. Part of the documentary is spoken by Forman´s son Petr, who represents continuity on the personal level and also on the level of a collective story of the director who points out the fact that our country is free only on the paper and that it will take a long time before people free themselves inside.

Translated by Petra Ocelková

more articles from a section:  Review

F2.18The Silence of Others This film by Almudena Carracedo and Rober Bahar, produced by the Almodóvar brothers, screams out for justice for the unpunished crimes of the Franco régime
F4.17China, 87. The OthersWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection China 87. The Others by Violaine de VillersWill Tizard
F2.17Máme tlakovú níž / Richard Müller: Nepoznaný
F1.17Also Known as JihadiWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection Also Known as Jihadi byEric BaudelaireWill Tizard
F1.17The Lust for PowerWill Tizard from Variety on Opus Bonum selection The Lust for Power by Tereza Nvotová (world premiere).Will Tizard
F1.17On the Edge of Freedom Sydney Levine from SydneysBuzz on First Lights selection On the Edge of Freedom by Jens Lengerke and Anita Mathal Hopland (central European premiere). Sydney Levine
F3.17Acts and IntermissionsColin Beckett on Opus Bonum selection Acts and Intermissions by Child Abigail (internationale premiere).Colin Beckett
F3.17Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about DeathColin Beckett on Between the Seas selection Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death by Tetiana Khodakivska and Oleksandr Stekolenko (world premiere). Colin Beckett
F5.17The WallNick Holdsworth on Opus Bonum selecetion The Wall by Dmitry Bogolubov (world premiere).Nick Holdsworth
F4.17MissingDominik Kamalzadeh from Der Standard on Opus Bonum selection Missing by Sharifi Farahnaz (world premiere).Dominik Kamalzadeh

starší články

December 17, 2019

from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReview Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival