Nationality: Czech. Born: Prague, 29 March 1913. Education: Educated in law, Charles University, Prague. Career: Advertising writer, also made first film, 1935; director for Barrandov Studios, Prague, 1936; following Nazi invasion, escaped to London, 1939; worked with British documentarists for Crown Film Unit, World War II; returned to Prague, 1945; teacher at film school, West Berlin, 1963; at Venice Festival at time of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, sought political asylum in Italy, 1968. Awards: Artist of Merit, Czechoslovakia.
Films as Director:
People in the Sun
Give Us Wings
Song of a Sad Country
Journey from the Shadows
The Rape of Czechoslovakia
Before the Raid
Věrni zustaneme (Interim Balance) (+ sc)
Uloupená hranice (The Stolen Frontier) (+ co-sc)
Dravci (Wild Beasts; Beast of Prey) (+ co-sc); Ves v pohraniči (The Village on the Frontier)
Píseň o sletu I, II (Song of the Meet, I and II; High Flies theHawk, I and II)
Vstanou noví bojovníci (New Warriors Will Arise); Poslednívýstřel (The Last Shot)
Muj přítel Fabián (My Friend Fabian; My Friend the Gypsy) (+ co-sc)
Punt'a a čtyřlístek (Punta and the Four-Leaf Clover; Doggyand the Four) (+ co-sc)
Hra o život (Life at Stake; Life Was at Stake) (+ co-sc)
Vlčí jáma (Wolf Trap) (+ co-sc)
Taková láska (Appassionata; That Kind of Love) (+ co-sc)
Romeo, Julie a tma (Romeo, Juliet and the Darkness; Sweet Light in the Dark Window) (+ co-sc)
Zbabělec (Coward) (+ co-sc)
Zlaté kapradí (The Golden Fern) (+ co-sc)
Třicet jedna ve stínu (Ninety in the Shade) (+ co-sc)
Vražda po našem (Murder Czech Style) (+ co-sc)
Prípad pro Selwyn (Justice for Selwyn) (for Czech TV)
Wie man seinen Gatten los wird (for TV)
Martha und Ich (+ sc)
By WEISS: articles—
"Czech Cinema Has Arrived," in Films and Filming (London), March 1959.
"Mixing It," in Films and Filming (London), June 1965.
Interview in Closely Watched Films, by Antonin Liehm, White Plains, New York, 1974.
On WEISS: books—
Boček, Jaroslav, Modern Czechoslovak Film, Prague, 1965.
Pitera, Zbigniew, Leksykon rezyserow filmowych, Warsaw, 1978.
Liehm, Mira, and Antonín, The Most Important Art: East EuropeanFilm after 1945, Berkeley, 1977.
Habova, Milada, and Jitka Vysekalova, editors, Czechoslovak Cinema, Prague, 1982.
On WEISS, articles—
Mariani, P., "Il ritorno di Weiss," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), November-December 1990.
"Martha und ich," in Kino (Filme der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), no. 3, 1990.
Variety (New York), 17 September 1990.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1991.
Strusková, Eva, "Marta a ja," in Film a Doba (Prague), Winter 1992.
Zeman, Pavel, in Iluminace (Prague), vol. 8, no. 3, 1996.
* * *
Jiři Weiss is one of the most significant and certainly most interesting Czech directors of the twentieth century. He studied at Jura and had worked as a journalist before making his first film in 1934, a documentary which received a prize at Venice that year. Until the outbreak of war he continued to work on documentaries.
In 1939 Weiss fled the Nazis to England, befriended an English documentarist, and made several films, including Before the Raid. Later, as a film specialist, he took part in the battles of the Czech exile army. He returned to his homeland in 1945. His first theatrical film, Uloupená hranice, dealt with the Munich accord of 1938, shortly before the fascist occupation of his country. A subsequent film,Vstanou noví bojovníci, depicted the establishment of the worker's movement in Czechoslovakia, and brought the director not only official recognition at home but also attention abroad.
Afterward Weiss made films dealing with contemporary problems and people's everyday life. In the 1953 film My Friend Fabian he described how the gypsies adjusted, with many difficulties, to a new life in socialist Czechoslovakia. Hra o život appeared in 1956, a critical film about the destruction of a bourgeois family in the period of the German occupation. Taková láska, a dramatic psychological work, displayed the director's ability to develop richly human characterization.
Vlčí jama impressed further through the deep psychological treatment of the characters and the careful attention to cultural surroundings by which he delineated the zeitgeist, the atmosphere and the milieu of the petit bourgeoisie prior to World War I. An honorable mayor of a small city, who feels a devotion for his ageing wife, nevertheless falls in love with a young girl who lives in the same house.
This film revealed the full range of Jiři Weiss's style. It is based in a solid critical realism, rooted in the epic novels of the nineteenth century. This approach sets out fully realized and many-sided human figures within an accurately described milieu. The cinema of Weiss draws on Czech cultural tradition, and at the same time strives toward broader European dimensions. In this way his works attain a certain cosmopolitanism.
On the one hand, Weiss was strongly influenced by neorealism, as were all the other filmmakers of his generation. Although not so pathetically inclined as, for example, Andrzej Wajda, Weiss showed in his masterpiece Romeo, Julie a tma the influences of the neorealist aesthetic, especially in the case of the theme, again broadly European, of the tragic fate of two young lovers in Prague in 1942. The Jewish schoolgirl Hanna is hidden by young Pavel, a tender love develops and is cut short by Hanna's death. Weiss had created a tragic and poetic work, without filmic innovation, but nevertheless a serious, noble film.
In the 1960s Weiss made Zlaté kapradí, Trícet jedna ve stínu, and Vražda po našem, which attained a high standard in terms of craft, but broke no new ground formally or thematically. Living since 1968 in the West, he has made the occasional film for television.