INTIMATE LIGHTING THE CREMATOR
DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT
B&W, 1964, 64m.
Directed by Jan Němec
Starring Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera, Irma Bischofova
B&W, 1965, 72m.
Directed by Ivan Passer
Starring Zdeněk Blažek, Karel Blazek, Miroslav Cvrk, Vera Kresadlová, Jan Vost
B&W, 1968, 96m.
Directed by Juraj Herz
Starring Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlasta Chramostová, Jana Stehnová, Milos Vognic
Second Run (DVD)
Hot on the heels of the excellent Polish Cinema Classics set from Second Run comes a more modest but worthwhile collection of three prime films from their catalog of '60s Czech cinema milestones, only one of which has received a significant English-subtitled DVD release outside the UK.
The earliest of the set, and indeed one of the first official Czech New Wave films, is the virtually wordless Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci), the striking debut feature from director Jan Němec who went on to helm A Report on the Party and Guests. The stripped-down look at the brutal consequences of war revolves around the journey of two nameless adolescents (Jánsky and Kumbera) who, while in transit between concentration camps, escape from their train and go on the run through the countryside. Along the way they encounter some peasants, wind up in hot water for alleviating their starvation by pilfering some bread, and try to outrun some gun-toting locals.
Stark and often surreal in its sense of relentless panic, this film was shot largely with handheld cameras and manages to combine urgency and a sense of dreamlike dislocation at the same time. The actors are convincingly haggard and sympathetic while the locals could have easily been pulled off of any village street, and at barely over an hour the film never overstays its welcome or descends into overt sermonizing. For some reason this film hasn't quite reached the level of acclaim as some of its successors, but it's just as worthwhile and also feels like something of a stylistic influence on the later Polish films by Andrzej Zulawski, especially The Third Part of Night. The Second Run disc is the roughest-looking of the three, which may be due to the scarcity of elements for such an early title. It often has a blown out, gritty appearance that suits the subject matter, but don't expect anything close to a pristine or pretty presentation.
Initially released in 2010, the disc comes with a very useful set of liner notes by Michael Brooke (from the BFI National Archive), covering the historical context of the film (including an explanation of the boys' jackets) and pointing out the influence of Robert Bresson while also offering a thorough director bio. You also get a photo gallery and a video appreciation of the film by film programmer Peter Hames, who spends 20 minutes covering some of the visual themes of the film, discussing its place in the Czech New Wave, and pointing out some nice director trademarks. As of this writing, this appears to still be the only English-friendly DVD of this film anywhere in the world.
The review for Intimate Lighting is now located here.
The review for The Cremator is now located here.