Vojtech Jasný’s lyrical masterpiece All My Good Countrymen is the third classic Czech film to have been digitally restored in recent years, and, like its predecessors, the new version will be seen for the first time at the Karlovy Vary film festival. Ahead of Saturday’s gala screening, I discussed the movie and its restoration with the person who oversaw the project, Anna Batištová, head of the Audiovisual Collection at the National Film Archive.
“It’s a film that grew out of the Prague Spring, in a way. It was shot in ’68 and released in ’69, and these were times when everything changed radically – the situation was different from day to day.
“It discusses the socialist regime, it discusses communism as a political view in a very deep way, and it was still released after August 1968 [when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia]. So for me it’s a strong political film.
“But for many people that I talk to it’s a film of their heart. It’s a very lyrical movie, with shots of nature, with a very poetic way of thinking about human life and so on. So even for today’s audience it’s kind of filmic poetry.”
What were the particular challenges of restoring it?
“With digital restoration, the problem is you have much more means at your disposal. So the biggest challenge is always not to over do it – to stay true to the original, to stay true to how the film used to be when it was screened in the ‘60s, and to make it look like film, even if you project it in digital when you screen it in digital today.”
Vojtěch Jasný is still around. He’s in his late 80s now. Was he involved in the process? Did you consult him?
“We just had him yesterday at the UPP post-production company to have a look at the result and he liked it very much. He was actually quite amazed by what we can do with today’s digital means.”
This is the third film that you guys have restored like this. The first was two years ago, [František Vláčil’s] Marketa Lazarová, and last year you did [Miloš Forman’s] The Firemen’s Ball. What has been the reaction to the previous films that you’ve restored?
“I wasn’t present for the Marketa Lazarová restoration, but at the moment we are getting some feedback on the Blu-ray edition that is coming out on Criterion and it is very good. People really like what we have done with the movie.
“I was present for The Firemen’s Ball restoration, as an externee back then. I introduced the film for example in Paris at a festival of digitally restored films and I got one reaction that I’m very proud of.
“And he said the film looks like a 35-milimetre print, which I think is the greatest thing that can be said about the digital restoration of an old film – that it actually looks like it did when it was released back in the ‘60s.”