Independent of Reality: The Films of Jan Němec is the first full-career retrospective of Czech director Jan Němec (b. 1936) to be presented in North America. Though Němec (pronounced Niemetz) was an instrumental player in the famed Czechoslovak New Wave alongside Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, Věra Chytilová, and others, the enfant terrible of the movement is relatively unknown here. This long-overdue survey of Němec's nearly 50-year career of uncompromising work is curated by Irena Kovarova and produced by the Comeback Company in partnership with the National Film Archive (Prague), Aerofilms, and Jan Němec-Film. It premiered at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn in November and is now on a North American tour.
The triumvirate of Němec, Forman, and Menzel became the face of a new cinema rushing out of Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s, with Chytilová, Ivan Passer, and Juraj Herz following close behind. Though heralded as a new generation of masters abroad, their work did not always garner immediate recognitionCzechoslovak state authorities controlled film distribution to festivals and markets, and it could take two to three years before a film was available internationally.
Forbidden from working in film after the invasion, Němec was forced into exile in 1974 and left for Germany. He lived in the United States from 1977 to 1989, but his avant-garde filmmaking style and nonconformist personality made it difficult for him to break through in Hollywood. After several years spent teaching and working as a commercial videographer, Němec returned to his native country following the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Many films in this series will be shown on rare, imported archival 35mm prints.
The Jan Nemec Retrospective at Facets is made possible, in part, by the Kristyna M. Driehaus Foundation.
Friday, March 147 pm Diamonds of the Night
Saturday, March 153 pm Martyrs of Love 5 pm Toyen 7 pm Diamonds of the Night
Sunday, March 163 pm Golden Sixties: Jan Němec (Free screening!) 5 pm Pearls of the Deep 7 pm Martyrs of Love with
Monday, March 177 pm Late Night Talks
Tuesday, March 187 pm A Report on the Party
Wednesday, March 197 pm A Report on the Party
Thursday, March 207 pm Late Night Talks
Němec's conviction that a director must create "a personal style" and "a world independent of reality as it appears at the time" was already evident in his first feature length film. Diamonds follows the escape of two young concentration camp prisoners through the woods of Sudetenland and the ensuing pursuit for them. Moving freely between the present, dreams, and flashbacks, Němec employs an aesthetic of pure cinema to depict the state of the distressed human mind.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czechoslovakia, 1964, 35mm, 64 mins. In Czech and German with English subtitles. New 35mm print!TimeOut NY Chicago Reader
Based on a story by Arnost Lustig, Němec's graduation film follows the story of starving prisoners plotting to steal a piece of bread from a parked train in preparation for their escape (a subject that echoes that of Diamonds). The film won an award at a student film festival in Amsterdam and a main award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czechoslovakia, 1960, 35mm, 11 mins. In Czech with German subtitles. No English dialogue. A transcript in English will be provided.Top
A manifesto of the Czechoslovak New Wave, this anthology of five short films by five rising directors is based on a book by the celebrated writer Bohumil Hrabal. Absurdist in style, with a heightened attention to the individual, Hrabal's work broke with the socialist realism that dominated the era. Němec's story ("The Imposters") is the simplest stylistically, chronicling two elderly men who share stories of their illustrious life careers while spending time together in a hospital. Ultimately they reveal themselves to be masters of the art of embellishment.
Directed by Jan Němec, Véra Chytilová, Jaromil Jires, Jiří Menzel and Evald Schorm, Czechosavakia, 1966, 35mm, 107 mins. In Czech and Romany with English subtitles.Top
This three-part ballad, which often uses music to stand in for dialogue, remains the most perfect embodiment of Němec's vision of a world independent of reality. Mounting a defense of timid, inhibited, clumsy, and unsuccessful individuals, the three protagonists are the complete antithesis to the industrious heroes of socialist-realist aesthetics. Winning an award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1968, the film cemented Němec's reputation as the kind of unrestrained nonconformist the Communist establishment considered the most dangerous to their ideology.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czechoslovakia, 1967, 35mm, 71mins. In Czech with English subtitles.New York Times
One of the most powerful documentaries ever made and a unique document of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Oratorio for Prague "is a film so moving that one is near tears from the first moment after the credits appear." (New York Times) Němec was in Prague filming a documentary about the liberalization of Czechoslovakia, when the Russian tanks moved in and this event became the subject of his film, in which on-the-spot footage became a moving elegy. This is the only filmed record of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the raw footage for Oratorio for Prague, when broadcast by television, was seen by more than 600 million people, effectively ended Němec's filmmaking career in Communist Czechoslovakia. The film premiered, hot off the editing table, at the New York Film Festival in September 1968.Top
Directed by Jan Němec, U.S.A./Czechoslovakia, 1968, Digibeta, 29 mins. In English.
In one of the most enigmatic films of his career, Němec uses an abstract structure to create this portrait of revered surrealist painter Toyen, whose ambiguously gendered name was given to her by fellow surrealist Jindřich Štyrský. The film, true to the subjectís own style, is an idiosyncratic vision that revisits the most oppressive period of her life. At that time she lived in Prague and during World War II provided shelter to the artist Jindřich Heisler, who was evading calls to transports. Much like the artists' lives, the film disintegrates into hallucinatory visions, attempting to reveal the images that fueled Toyen's imagination through a series of associations.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czech Republic, 2005, 35mm, 63 mins. In Czech with English subtitles.KinoKultura
This illuminating portrait of trailblazing director Jan Němec originates from a 27-part TV series about masters of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Golden Sixties is a major undertaking in the exploration of Czechoslovak cinema of the 1960s, a period that brought about the Czechoslovak New Wave. The series includes 26 interviews with directors, screenwriters, cameramen, producers and actors, all answering questions about their early recollections, educational experience at the Prague Film Academy, the films they made during the 1960s, and the impact of the Soviet invasion of 1968. Apart from giving background on the most important films of the period, the films also bring forth lesser known films, like Němec's documentary The Strahov Demonstration (1968) which revisits the scenes of the 1967 student demonstration and confrontation with police brutality combined with interviews.
Directed by Martin Sulik, Czech Republic, 2011, Digibeta, 58 mins. In Czech with English subtitles.Top
After his return from exile, Němec delved immediately into filmmaking. Unlike his generational peers, he did not rely on existing structures and began producing films independently, continuing to develop a personal style without regard for generally accepted rules. Experimenting with digital video formats, this counterpart to Kafka's Letter to Father finds the director probing his own psyche in the form of a confessional dialogue with his late mother. Němec turns a fish-eye lens on himself and his birthplace of Prague to create an experimental personal essay film, an "autodocumentary," which the jury at Locarno International Film Festival recognized with a Golden Leopard Award. With Jan Němec, Karel Roden, Ester Krumbachová, Zuzana Stivínová, Václav Havel.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czech Republic, 2001, Digibeta, 68 mins. In Czech with English subtitles.
While shooting a documentary about the exciting and hopeful period known as the Prague Spring, Němec and his crew found themselves watching and filming in horror as the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Along with his friend, the titular Ferrari Dino Girl, and her boyfriend with a diplomatic passport, Němec smuggled the resulting four reels of footage of the events for the rest of the world to see. This film returns to the escape route, dramatizing the director's account of the days and presenting all the original footage shot during the invasion for the first time.
Directed by Jan Němec, Czech Republic, 2009, Digibeta, 68 mins. In Czech with English subtitles.with
This absurdist tale about a doting mother of a brutal torturer was shot without permission of Czechoslovak authorities on a special commission from the Amsterdam Film Festival and later won the main award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Directed by Jan Němec, The Netherlands/Germany/Czechoslovakia, 1967, Digibeta, 10 mins. No dialogue.Top
"The most controversial film ever produced by the Czech New Wave" (Peter Hames), Jan Němec's best-known work is an absurdist satire on power relations, the imperative to be "happy" under totalitarianism, and the way people adapt themselves to a society's prevailing ideology. It was banned for two years, released during the brief Prague Spring of 1968, then banned againand later was one of four films declared "banned forever" by the Czech authorities in 1973!
A group of men and women enjoying an idyllic picnic in the woods are accosted and interrogated by several thuggish strangers, then rescued by a genial "host" who invites them all to a magnificent outdoor banquet. Němec co-wrote the script with then-wife Ester Krumbachová, who also contributed to Véra Chytilová's Daisies. The cast is made up of noted Czech artists and writersincluding, as the guest who flees, filmmaker Evald Schorm, whose 1968 film The End of a Priest was also one of that quartet "banned forever."
"One of the most important masterpieces of the Czech film renaissance... As we watch its deceptive progress, Renoir turns into Buñuel and we discover a scathing, pessimistic statement about human conduct under totalitarianism" (Amos Vogel).
Directed by Jan Němec, Czechoslovakia, 1966, 35mm, 70 mins. In Czech with English subtitles.