Czech cinema will be forever embedded in Britain's film memory thanks to Vera Chytilova and her seminal New Wave film Daisies. In this 60s surreal visual trip, the two main heroines, Marie I & Marie II, rebel against the conservative etiquette and metaphorically, against the political doom and abandon of Communist era.
In following decades, Czech filmmakers took turn in focus on another film (anti)hero - a down-on-luck weak male, an oaf. Or as one Czech film critic eloquently put it, chcipak (get at me if you're struggling to pronounce).
Luckily, there is now strong evidence that we are witnessing the beginning of another great era in Czech cinema that focuses again on strong female characters. The new films in the 20th edition Made In Prague Film Festival Female Centric strand feature women who have decided to change their destiny or are fighting against the effects of fate and circumstances.
Eva Nova, FIPRESCI Award Winner from the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. This heartfelt almost docu-style drama of compassion and redemption follows an ageing actress and recovered alcoholic fighting for her estranged son and a second chance. Emilia Vasaryova, a veteran Slovak actor, took this unglamorous but full-bodied role with a grace, standing off with camera in extreme close ups that penetrate most of the film. With patience, the film unravels the shimmer of possibility of love and reunion after her journey to redemption.
I, Olga Hepnarova is an existential drama shot in atmospheric black and white without any use of sound score. Inspired by the life of the last woman to be hanged in the former Czechoslovakia in 1975 at the age of 22 for killing 13 innocent people by deliberately driving into a full bus stop. Olga, although unashamed of her otherness, is a quiet but tortured character, driven to revenge on society - drawing an uncomfortable parallel with the recent attack in Nice.
The veteran documentary filmmaker Helena Trestikova has abandoned her time-lapse documentary style to present Doomed Beauty, a terrific study of the meteoric rise and abysmal fall of the interwar movie star Lida Baarova whose affair with Goebbels overshadowed the rest of her life. Trestikova juxtaposes Baarova’s view of herself as a victim with archive footage and movie extracts questioning the tragedy of her fate.
Drawing from Czech folk myth, this thoroughly modern psychodrama invoking a 19th century poem, focuses on young widow Eliska grappling with the loss of her husband. Eliska’s inner fears when dealing with her daughter and ‘the curse’ of the Noonday Witch who steals children transforms the story into a sunlit horror exploring the real threats to the family.
In this tragicomedy, taking matters into her own hands is Vlasta, a dedicated nurse, who after spending her whole life helping others falls seriously ill. Home Care is sad, funny and life-affirming, depicting the dynamics of traditional Czech marriage and the lengths into which women sacrifice for family. With an award winning performance by lead actress Alena Mihulova, the film was the Czech entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
Made In Prague runs from 5th November - 2nd December across London cinemas and venues, more info More information: www.czechcentre.org.uk