czechoslovak new wave

est. 1962 – 1970

In the mid-20th century, a cinematic revolution was brewing in Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak New Wave, film movement characterized by visual experimentation and innovation in storytelling, left an indelible mark on the world of films. Emerging during a time of political and social upheaval, it greatly influenced the European art house cinema.

Origins of the Czechoslovak New Wave

The Czechoslovak New Wave was born within the context of Czechoslovakia’s post-war history, which was marked by political turmoil, including the Prague Spring of 1968 (a period of political liberalization and mass protest in the Czechoslovak Republic in 1968). In the years following World War II, Czechoslovakia found itself under the influence of the Soviet Union and the tight grip of communism. This period stifled artistic expression, leading to state-controlled cinema dominated by propaganda.

 

However, in the early 1960s, a new generation of filmmakers emerged, known for their wit, humor, and a desire to challenge the status quo. They sought to liberate Czechoslovak cinema from the constraints of socialist realism, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression in film.

Diamonds of the Night (1964) by Jan Nemec
Diamonds of the Night (1964) by Jan Nemec
Loves of a Blonde (1965) by Milos Forman
Loves of a Blonde (1965) by Milos Forman

Characteristics of the Czechoslovak New Wave

The Czechoslovak New Wave was a movement that defied traditional conventions, both in its storytelling and its visual style. It celebrated innovation, often employing non-linear narratives and dreamlike sequences, while merging reality and fantasy to create an experience that was fresh and captivating. The movement also brought character-driven narratives, featuring quirky, relatable individuals who grappled with the absurdity of life.

 

One of the defining features of the Czechoslovak New Wave was its stunning cinematography. The movement produced visually captivating films, with a keen focus on the aesthetics of each frame. Cinematographers like Jaroslav Kucera played a significant role in shaping the distinctive look of these films, employing innovative camera work and framing to enhance the narrative.

 

While the Czechoslovak New Wave was known for its humor and satire, it also delved into pressing social issues, such as conformity, bureaucracy, and the alienation of individuals within a collectivist society. This exploration of social themes, wrapped in the cloak of humor, added layers of depth and relevance to the movement’s films.

GIF from Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilova
Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilova
GIF from Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilova
Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilova

Important Filmmakers and Films

The Czechoslovak New Wave, driven by a group of exceptionally talented and visionary filmmakers, pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling to the new heights. Among the most notable figures within this movement were:

 

Milos Forman, renowned for his early films “Loves of a Blonde” (1965) and “The Firemen’s Ball” (1967), which offered a satirical perspective on the absurdities of everyday life under an oppressive regime. Jiri Menzel, whose “Closely Watched Trains” (1966) not only earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1968 but also showcased the blend of humor and melancholy, illustrating the life of a young train station employee during World War II. Last but not least, Vera Chytilova, with her feminist masterpiece “Daisies” (1966) defied conventional narrative structures while pushing the boundaries of visual aesthetics.

Closely Watched Trains (1966) by Jiri Menzel
Closely Watched Trains (1966) by Jiri Menzel

Legacy and Influence

The Czechoslovak New Wave was a cinematic revolution that emerged from a complex historical and political backdrop, and at the uncertain times, influencing subsequent movements from the Central and Eastern Europe. Its fearless exploration of society, innovative storytelling techniques, and the enduring impact on global cinema make it a movement worthy of recognition and celebration.

 

Though the Prague Spring was quashed, the spirit of creativity and freedom that fueled it lives on in the hearts of filmmakers and cinephiles alike, reminding us of the power of art to transcend boundaries and question the established norms.

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.