O Slavnosti a Hostech
O SLAVNOSTI A HOSTECH
(A Report on the Party and the Guests)
Director: Jan Němec
Production: Barrendov Film Studio for Ceskoslovenský Film; black and white, 35mm; running time: 70 minutes. Released Czechoslovakia, 1968. Filmed 1966 in Czechoslovakia.
Producer: Carlo Ponti; screenplay: Ester Krumbachová and Jan Němec; photography: Jaromír Sofr; editor: Miroslav Hájek; sound: Jiři Pavlik; art director: Oldřich Bosák; music: Karel Mareś.
Cast : Ivan Vyskočil (Host); Jan Klusák (Rudolf); Jiři Němec (Josef); Zdena Skvorecká (Eva); Pavel Bosek (František); Helena Pejškova (Marta); Karel Mareš (Karel); Jana Pracharová (Wife); Evald Schorm (Husband).
Liehm, Antonín, Closely Watched Films, New York, 1974.
Liehm, Mira, and Antonín, The Most Important Art: East EuropeanFilm After 1945, Berkeley, 1977.
Habova, Milada, and Jitka Vysekalova, editors, Czechoslovak Cinema, Prague, 1982.
Hames, Peter, The Czechoslovak New Wave, Berkeley 1985.
Green, Calvin, in Film Society Review (New York), October 1968.
"Jan Němec: Filmography," in International Film Guide, London, 1968.
Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), March 1969.
Amengual, Barthélemy, "Allegorie et Stalinisme dans quelques films de l'est," in Positif (Paris), January 1973.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 481, April 1992.
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O Slavnosti a hostech is the best-known and most respected of the feature films directed by Jan Němec in Czechoslovakia. The film is his second feature and was co-scripted by Ester Krumbachová, his wife at that time.
The work is a thinly veiled critique of the Communist regime and a parable on authoritative oppression and the nature of conformity. Although the movie was completed in 1966, it was not exhibited in Czechoslovakia until 1968, following a two-year struggle supported by many of the country's leading intellectuals to have it shown. Its subsequent appearance in the 1968 New York Film Festival brought Němec to world attention.
The plot begins as a group of ordinary men and women frolic in the countryside, enjoying an afternoon picnic. Suddenly several men appear from behind the trees. Despite their smiles, the men forcefully direct the group to a clearing. A leader appears and takes up a position of authority behind a small table. He sets forth the rules by which the group will be governed and their movements confined. The women comply readily; the men make attempts to protest, but in the end acquiesce as well. Tension and incipient violence hang in the air when suddenly an older man appears, apologetic for the stridency of his hirelings, particularly the leader whom he refers to as his adopted son, Rudolph. He invites the group to a birthday celebration in the forest.
Among the trees which line the lake, banquet tables have been set with elaborate dishes and candelabras. The host speaks about the small differences in shape and design which distinguish the tables, but proudly points out how all fit together into one distinguishable whole. The host is openly paternalistic and all present toast his benevolence. The harmony is interrupted when one woman discovers she is sitting at the wrong place. Her desire to move sets a chain reaction which disturbs the entire group, much to the dismay of the host. More urgent is the discovery that one of the guests has disappeared. Finding his departure intolerable, the host instructs Rudolph to bring him back. Delighted with this opportunity, Rudolph leaves with a sharp-toothed dog and is joined in the chase by the entire party. The tables are abandoned and the film closes with the sound of the barking dog.
O Slavnosti a hostech deals with the themes common to all of Němec's films, although they are the best developed here. Most prominent are the restriction on human freedom, the reactions of human beings under stress, and the ease with which man utilizes violence. In O Slavnosti a hostech, however, Němec goes a step further and treats the degree to which men are complicit in their own fate. Like his other works, the film possesses a surreal quality, especially in its presentation of extraordinary occurrences in a realistic manner, such as the fairy tale-like outdoor court scene and the elaborate banquet.
The film was critically praised and Němec was considered among the front ranks of the new Czech directors. His sensibility was compared to that of Franz Kafka, his compatriot, and Feodor Dostoevski.
However, following the fall of the short-lived Dubcek government which allowed for artistic freedom in Czechoslovakia, Němec was blacklisted and unable to make films after 1968. More than his other two features, O Slavnosti a hostech was seen as a direct attack on Eastern European Communism and was responsible for his being barred from directing.