Monday, November 13, 2006

Another Review of the Toyen Film

In the early days of this blog, I posted my reactions to the 2005 Jan Neměc film Toyen. KinoKultura, in a theme issue on Czech film, has now reviewed the film as well.
On the whole, the review is intelligent and well grounded. Not surprisingly, it pays particular attention to the cinematic merits of the film, which are considerable. A fair amount of good background is also provided for those readers unfamiliar with Toyen, Heisler, and Czech surrealism.
Still, as is unfortunately so typical of English-language accounts of the Czech surrealists, there are a few inaccuracies. For example, Karel Teige was not a founding member of the group, although he joined not long afterwards. Kalandra was not a surrealist, but was friendly toward the movement. Also, Nezval's 1938 attempt to break up the Prague surrealist group was not a direct result of Soviet preference for socialist realism but was occasioned more by his and Teige's diverging attitudes toward Stalin (and socialist realism) at a point when Nezval thought it crucial to support the USSR as an ally against Nazi Germany while Teige saw the USSR as increasingly totalitarian. (We can only hope that my dissertation magically avoids errors, but I daresay it will have its share, especially the kind where I will run across the correct information only after having submitted the final version, which will be deeply embarrassing.)
The review, which I should reiterate is really quite a good one, does leave me with a couple of questions. First, I was unsure whether the reviewer watched the film with English subtitles (is there a subtitled version?) or without. I would like to get a copy, and with subtitles, as I can't follow all of the Czech. Second, the reviewer refers to quotations from Toyen and to Toyen dreaming of sitting on her own grave. What is the source of these? My research has uncovered extremely few documents written by Toyen, almost all of which have been vacation postcards or business correspondence. I realize that Neměc had access to sources that I have not located, but it is my understanding that the screenplay is a creative imagining of Toyen and Heisler's wartime life. I would be interested to know whether any of the script comes from Toyen's own words. I would be particularly interested to know of documentation that Toyen recorded or described her dreams.
Perhaps one shouldn't review reviews, but I fear I could not resist. And I am afraid I still feel as though the film was more about Heisler than Toyen, even though Toyen's art was prominently shown.
KinoKultura also reviews Nuda v Brně, but although in this case I had no factual quibbles, I found this review much less sensitive to the nuances of the film. This may be in part due to this reviewer not writing in her native language, but it is not solely that. First off, I think Nuda v Brně is really quite brilliant, while I can't tell whether the reviewer agrees or merely admits that lots of people think so. (She calls its successor, Hrubeš a Mareš, a failure, but doesn't specify whether that was artistically or merely at the box office. I don't know how Hrubeš a Mareš did at the box office, but I thought it was hilarious. Admittedly, I am a twisted soul.) I think that it is Jesse's job, as Nuda v Brně's biggest fan, to write about it in detail; however, I will say that I don't see any of the women in the film as sexual predators and I didn't have any problem simultaneously laughing at and sympathizing with most of the characters. But then, I could see aspects of myself and my own life in practically every one of them (well, ok, not the mismatched S&M couple), and I find my own life pretty funny despite my tendency to take it terribly seriously. Haven't most of us had dreadfully awkward encounters with our love/lust objects? The brilliant thing about Nuda v Brně (well, one brilliant thing; the pacing and cinematography are also very fine) is that it gets right to that horrible anxiety and awkwardness, which is simultaneously so laughable and so deeply human.
Coming up soon: notes on a film seen more recently.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can't wait for the comments on a film seen more recently. I was also preparing some of those.

Do you have a link ot the Nuda v Brne review?

November 14, 2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I will add the NvB link in a minute.

I'll try to write up the other item when I wake up a little more (and send off the eternal grant proposal).

November 14, 2006 8:58 PM  

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