Nemec, Jan

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Nationality: Czech. Born: Prague, 12 July 1936. Education: Film Faculty, Academy of Music and Arts (FAMU), Prague, 1955–60. Family: Married 1) Ester Krumbachová (divorced); 2) Marta Kubisová. Career: While at film academy, assistant to directors Vaclav Krska and Martin Frič; co-scripted two features, also five shorts and five mini-musicals for TV, with then-wife, 1964–66; after Martyrs of Love, blacklisted by Barrandov Studios for political reasons, 1966; filmed entry of Soviet forces into Prague, footage broadcast around the world (later used in both U.S. and Soviet propaganda films), 1968; made only film following Soviet invasion, a short documentary about intensive care unit, Prague, 1972; able to leave Czechoslovakia, worked with Veronika Schamoni in Germany, 1974, then moved to U.S.A.; occasionally lectured on cinema at American universities; returned to Czechoslovakia, 1989, to direct V žáru královské lásky (In the Light of the King's Love). Address: 21607 Rambla Vista, Malibu, California, 90265, U.S.A.

Films as Director:


Sousto (The Loaf; A Loaf of Bread; A Bite to Eat; The Morsel)


The Memory of Our Day


Demanty noci (Diamonds of the Night) (+ co-sc); "Pdvodnici"(The Liars, Impostors) segment of Perličky na dn (Pearls of the Deep)


O slavnosti a hostech (The Party and the Guests; Report on the Party and the Guests) (+ co-sc)


Mučedníci lásky (Martyrs of Love) (+ co-sc); Mother and Son(short) (+ co-sc)


Oratorio for Prague (Oratorium for Prague) (doc) (+ co-sc)


Between Three and Five Minutes (doc short) (+ co-sc)


Le Décolleté dans le dos (+ co-sc); Metamorphosis (short)(+ co-sc); The Czech Connection (+ co-sc)


True Stories: Peace in Our Time?


The Poet Remembers


V žáru královské lásky (In the Light of the King's Love; The Flames of Royal Love); Strahovská demonstrace


Jmeno kodu: Rubin (Code Name: Ruby) (co-sc)


Nocní hovory s matkou

Other Films:


The Unbearable Lightness of Being (special consultant, role)


Vcentru filmu-vteple domova (role as himself)


Po ceste pustým lesem (role as himself)


Bohemia Docta (role as himself)


By NEMEC: article—

An interview with Miloš Fryš and Milan Doinel and Petr Marek, in Film a Doba (Prague), Spring-Summer 1997.

On NEMEC: books—

Skvorecký, Josef, All the Bright Young Men and Women, Toronto, 1971.

Liehm, Antonin, Closely Watched Films, White Plains, New York, 1974.

Stoil, Michael, Cinema beyond the Danube, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1974.

Liehm, Mira and Antonin, The Most Important Art, Berkeley, 1977.

Habova, Milada, and Jitka Vysekalova, editors, Czechoslovak Cinema, Prague, 1982.

Hames, Peter, The Czechoslovak New Wave, Berkeley, 1982.

On NEMEC: articles—

Skvorecký, Josef, "Unnepsegrol, bevonulasrol," in Filmvilag, vol. 33, no. 3, 1990.

Varga, G., "A nonkonformizmus lova," in Filmvilag, vol. 33, no. 7, 1990.

Durgnat, R., "Jan Nemec," in Film Dope, December 1991.

* * *

Jan Nemec's Czech filmography includes three shorts, three features, and a segment of a compilation work. All three features were co-scripted by his then-wife, Ester Krumbachová. He reached international fame with the 1968 screening of The Party and the Guests at the New York Film Festival, which followed a two-year struggle to screen the film within Czechoslovakia. After completing The Martyrs of Love in 1966, Nemec was blacklisted by Barrandov Studios for political reasons and was unable to work in Czechoslovakia. He immigrated to the West in 1974, settling first in Paris, then in Germany, and finally in the United States, but he was unable to reestablish his film career despite the fact that he was one of the foremost talents of the Czech New Wave.

Thematically all of Nemec's films deal with obstacles to human freedom and the ways in which men and women cope with these limitations. He has stated, "In Diamonds of the Night man is not free as a result of that most external of pressures called war. In The Party and the Guests, it is a lack of freedom that people bring on themselves by being willing to enter into any sort of collaborative relationship. In Martyrs of Love, it is a matter of a lack of freedom or opportunity to act out one's own folly, one's own madness, or dreams of love and human happiness." Within the context, Nemec is most concerned with the psychological effects of these restrictions.

Stylistically Nemec developed a highly metaphoric cinema utilizing several experimental techniques. He calls this style "dream realism." His works function as political and psychological parables. His first feature, Diamonds of the Night, based on a novel by Holocaust survivor Arnost Lustig, follows two Jewish boys who jump from a Nazi transport on its way to the concentration camps. As the boys wander through the forest looking for food, time shifts back and forth. There are memories of war-torn Prague, distorted visions of elongated trams, and menacing looks of strangers. The boys hallucinate about falling trees and swarming ants. Eventually they are arrested by the Home Guard, composed of old men more concerned with drinking and singing than with the boys. The film ends ambiguously with the fate of the two still an open question. Jaroslav Kučera's hand-held camera creates tension as the boys scamper like animals or stare subjectively into the impassive faces of their captors.

The Party and the Guests begins with a summer picnic. Suddenly a group of men appear, forcing the picnickers to obey new rules. Next they are feted at an elaborate banquet. Only one man is unwilling to participate in the festivities. At the end, accompanied by a menacing dog, the group sets out to capture the nonconformist. Here again are the themes of impersonal group control, conformity, man's indifference, and the casual use of violence, and Nemec again creates a surreal world where the extraordinary takes on the look of everyday events.

Nemec's last major work, Martyrs of Love, is composed of three comic stories about young men in pursuit of romance. Their inability to achieve their goal ultimately turns comedy into sadness. In creating the dream-like world of the film, Nemec used only minimal dialogue. The images are accompanied by a jazzy score, reflecting the passion for American music among young Czechs during the 1960s.

Nemec's short works deal with the same themes developed in his features. His graduation film, The Loaf of Bread, portrays a group of prisoners who steal a loaf of bread from their Nazi captors. Here Nemec depicts human beings under stress. As he has commented, "I am concerned with man's reactions to the drastic situation in which, through no fault of his own, he may find himself." Mother and Son, made in Holland in 1967, deals with the death of a sadistic soldier, who has beaten and executed prisoners. When young boys try to desecrate his grave, his old mother staunchly protects it. The film ironically concludes with the title, "Love between one human being and another is the only important thing in life."

Nemec's contribution to Pearls from the Deep is an episode titled "The Poseurs." Here two senile patients at a private clinic ramble on about their former achievements, despite their failing memories. Nemec's shots of the mortuary, the place where they will ultimately reside, provide a sad and chilling commentary on all human life. Nemec's remaining works are Metamorphosis, an adaptation of the Kafka story filmed in Germany in 1957, and The Czech Connection, made the same year.

—Patricia Erens