I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.
But this one serves a very interesting purpose.
So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).
So now we will get to branch out a bit.
A sampler of sorts.
Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.
Start with your best speaker, they say.
Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.
It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains
Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.
But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).
If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.
As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.
We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.
The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.
The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).
It’s baroque, but just slightly off. Anachronistic. Neobaroque. Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).
But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec. Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.
In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital. It is a very touching piece of cinema.
They try to keep each other’s spirits up.
We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing: lies.
Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.
In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.
What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen): organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.
We are presented with outsider art in its purest form. A painter who paints every wall in his house. It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.
Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.
Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout. Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.
Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.
A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.
Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature. Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.
And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave: Pearls of the Deep.
And little by little we learn a new culture.