Visitors to the Ekran site may be keen to know that Toronto is hosting a festival with films from Poland’s southern neighbor, the Czech Republic. Running from April 27 until May 1 at the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles, the ‘Czech That Film’ touring program showcases standout new Czech titles and features tales of murder, family strife, the corruption of power, and even the supernatural.
Of particular interest to fans of Polish cinema might be Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s award-winning I, Olga Hepnarová, which dramatizes the true story of the last person to be given the death sentence in former Czechoslovakia, a young woman who in 1973 ran over and killed eight people in a truck. This film was a co-production with Poland and stars up-and-coming Polish actress and singer Michalina Olszańska as the murderer of the title.
But beyond this specific interest, I, Olga Hepnarová
is also one of the most stunning films of 2016 and something of a shock from Czech cinema, better known for its good-natured, slice-of-life comedies. Using stark black-and-white imagery, this is a bleak, compelling account of the life that led up to Hepnarová’s horrific crime. After a bullied and abused upbringing that is partly spent in a psychiatric institution, Olga drifts through a lonely existence of manual work and passing sexual encounters. A slight young woman in a world of male laborers and a lesbian in a conservative communist society, Olga fails to find love, acceptance or a meaningful place in life, which feeds her growing alienation and a desperate need for vengeance.
In its cool, detached way, the film evokes a remarkable degree of understanding for its subject – something due in no small part to Olszańska’s exceptional and intense lead performance. Though dubbed into Czech, Olszańska’s performance is a matter of physical expression rather than words: she seems to concentrate Olga’s whole disturbed relation to the world into her hunched body language and unnerving gaze.
Another big draw at this season is the Canadian gala premiere of Jan Hřebejk’s much-acclaimed The Teacher, which will be accompanied by a Q and A with Hřebejk himself. Hřebejk is one of the most successful and well-known post-communist Czech directors, noted especially for his Oscar-nominated Divided We Fall (2000). He specializes in polished, sometimes comic dramas about the way ordinary individuals deal with authoritarian regimes and the moral dilemmas they bring. The Teacher is no exception, a finely acted 1980s period piece about a corrupt school instructor who exploits her Communist Party connections.
The other titles featured at ‘Czech That Film’ are The Devil’s Mistress, another dark real-life tale that tells the story of Lída Baarová, a Nazi-era Czech film star who became the lover of Joseph Goebbels; two treatments of troubled relationships, the dramatic The Snake Brothers and the more comic Tiger Theory; and a rare Czech venture into horror, The Noonday Witch, a creepy tale based on Slavic folklore that has earned comparison with hit Australian chiller The Babadook.
There’s something here for nearly every taste, so why not do as the title says and Czech That Film?
Find more information here: http://www.czechthatfilm.com/program.html
Written by Jonathan Owen