Wednesday, June 17, 2020



Director: Jan Nemec
Screenplay: Ester Krumbachova; Story by Esterkrumbachova and Jan Nemec

I honestly didn't expect to be diving into Czech New Wave again anytime soon at least for a Canon of Film entry, but since I can't get to my library in the timely manners anymore, I've been pulling from my DVD piles, and well, I happen to own a copy of "A Report on the Party and Guests"; it's on the same DVD copy I have of Vera Chytilova's "Daisies" that I already made a Canon of Film post for:

It's apart of the "Pearls of the Czech New Wave" Eclipse Collection. Eclipse, is essentially this cheaper off-brand alternative section of the Criterion Collection. I think I bought this DVD from my library originally just ot watch "Daisies" again for the aforementioned post. "Daisies" is actually not that obscure a film; I'd seen it previously and it's relatively easy to find and a lot of people over the years have discussed that film. It's a little more difficult to find people writing about "A Report on the Party and Guests". There's a lot of reasons for this, for one, it's not as beloved or enjoyable a film. The big reason is that it was banned in Czechoslavakia for being way too subversive. Well, way too obviously subversive.

This isn't too unusual for Czech New Wave, but Jan Nemec was the-eh,  l'enfant terrible of the movement. This movie in particular was banned "forever" by the Soviets. That was after struggling for releasing it to begin with. It was banned originally in '66, then was supposed to screen at Cannes two years later, but Cannes actually was canceled in the middle of the festival that year due to the May '68 turmoil  It did eventually gain a worldwide audience, but by that point Nemec had emigrated from the country and struggled to find any kind of mainstream work until he returned to Czechoslovakia after the wall fell.

The movie is technically a surreal satire, but much of it is pretty uncomforting to watch, which is a bit striking since the movie is only about 65 minutes long. And it's a fairly simple fable. It begins with an apparent bourgeoisie picnic and a group of seven just lounging around. They see another party happening and get invited to join. Soon, they realize that the party, is not what it seems.

Trying to explain what happens here, is kinda difficult. One good review I saw explained that it's the difference between "party" and "Party", with a capital P. The-eh Party, then basically imprison the group and set up a desk for a trial, led and interrogated by the leader, Rudolf (Jan Klusak). Now, metaphorically, this is all a parable about Soviet control of the masses. In practice, it feels like, this more bullying and forced form of peer pressure. This group comes in, led by this gap-toothed buffoon who has creepy grin, that-, especially on a HDTV just looks so frightening; I can't imagine how haunting these straight-ahead two shoots would feel like on a big screen. They actually reminded me of those close-up two-shots in "Silence of the Lambs", even though they were more medium close-up then extreme ones.

Still, it's their trial, their rules, and they enforce them on the group. Why do they do this?

Well, we know "why", metaphorically. None of this works as a literal reading; I totally get why the Soviets would be annoyed at the implications. Of course, it's Kafkaesque surrealism to begin with, and Czech New Wave,- it wasn't necessarily as avant-garde as say the Yugoslav Black Wave that was picking up steam around that time, but Czech New Wave still tended towards the surreal and lived in absurdism. Except at this point, it just feels like, these guys are being kidnapped. Again, that's the point, but they also, don't seem to mind?

Again, that's part of the point. Eventually, the majority of the original party, basically starts to enjoy and go along with the more dictatorial group. They do seem to have things they'd want, and there's a lot more of them. I mean, they were already apart of a more bourgeoisie group; you can argue that they were never really fighting the proletariat to begin with, they were off on their world having a picnic. Eventually, the Party lead them through the woods, and a to a much more elaborate and decadent affair. An outside banquet, with tables, chairs, decorations, assigned seating that no one follows at first, lots of food and drink. Food is a big metaphor in Czech New Wave I've noticed, as well as other Eastern block features, and it's a symbol of power and gross decadence of i. No wonder Orwell made the Soviets pigs. Here though, Nemec isn't light on the people either, who all but one just go along with this.

Back then, the belief was that the movie was really a call against the Socialist regime, which it was, but the few articles I can find, often note how Nemec is also taking shots at the public for just going along with it so cavalierly and being to easily lured in by the lifestyle they give them. I can see that argument, but then again, the one who doesn't accept the invitation, just leaves off, and that's not an option; the movie ends with the Party going on a search party for him. Led by dogs and by Rudolph's father, who looks a little too much like Vladimir Lenin. (Ivan Viscosil). It's not like, they had a choice, even leaving the group meant ultimately death. Nemec would emigrat after this movie was banned, and barely got any work after this. He actually because famous for being a pioneer in early wedding video coverage, before he was allowed to return after the wall and the USSR fell, and only then did he make movies again. The only other big noteworthy he did in the meantime, was documentary footage he shot, originally about the Prague Spring, but in the middle of it, he recorded the Warsaw Pact Invasion. You might recognize the footage from old newsreels or most famously, being used in Philip Kaufman's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", although when it was originally released as the short documentary "Oratorio for Prague", the film got standing ovations at several festivals.'s article by Douglas Messerli concludes by saying "If there was ever a profound artist whose work was nearly censored out of existence, it is Jan Nemec." I guess that's a fair description. And honestly, I kinda get it, both as censoring his films, but also because, at least with this film, it's now necessarily the most compelling film. You look at other Czech New Wave movies and filmmakers, they did just as much of undermining the authority, but they were definitely more artistically clever about it. The big Czech New Wave movie that depicts the incompetence of the Socialist authority was Milos Forman's "The Fireman's Ball", an over-the-top screwball comedy that could fit in easily on a double bill with "Duck Soup". Forman would go on to work for decades in Hollywood and really successfully, winning multiple Oscars. Jiri Menzel, the other biggest name from the movement is still making movies in his '80s, and he had international acclaim with "Closely Watched Trains" in the sixties, and he's never stopped working. Chytilova was never gonna be mainstream; on top of "Daisies", she was always gonna be challenging the ideas of narrative; I mean, she once made a movie called "The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday", so yeah, I'd say she just never gave a shit, but Nemec's work seemed to be too simple a storytelling at times. Even his previous film, "Diamonds in the Night" which is a WWII Holocaust film, well, it's thrilling, but it's also as simple a narrative I can imagine anybody coming up with about that era. It's not bad, or anything, and that fablistic simplicity to "A Report on the Party and Guests" is what gives it its power.

That said, though, I get why Forman escapes and never stopped working while Nemec couldn't find work. This is as simple and plain a narrative you can get to calling out the establishment, and that's why it's still powerful even if the actual targets of the satire are basically lost to history. I can easily see somebody remaking this film about administrations that had the complete opposite philosophies of the corrupt Soviet-era socialist regimes like the one Nemec came from. It's so simple it can be about any oppressive regime and shows how anybody can be sucked into a flawed and corrupt philosophy and even how those who try to fight it and get out, can't seem to be able to survive, no matter how peacefully and quietly they seem to be able to slip out and away from everyone else.

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