Saturday night saw the Czech Republic host its annual national film awards, known as the Český Lev, or Czech Lion. No single film swept the board, but director Alice Nellis’s film Tajnosti, or Little Girl Blue came away with best film.
The Czech Lion is the country's version of the Oscars. In this year's awards, the viewer’s award for best film went to the Jan Svěrák comedy Vratné Lahve or Empties. Jan Svěrák, known for the Oscar-wining film Kolya as well as such films as Elementary School and Dark Blue World, also came away with the best director award, while his father Zdeněk won best-screenplay for the same film. Ivan Trojan came away with best actor for the film Václav, while France’s Marion Cotillard won best actress for her performance in Edith Piaf, which was partly produced in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Alice Nellis won best film for Tajnosti, or Little Girl Blue, which was also produced by Jan Svěrák.
The film is a poetic tale of a mother with a unique view of the world. In the midst of an existential crisis, she uses these observational talents to ease her personal angst. It opened to generally warm reviews, with critics praising its strong acting, music and slick production design. I asked film critic Tomáš Baldýnský if he was surprised that the film won the main award:
“I must say that I wasn’t surprised at all, because her film is the typical winner because it is very small – you can feel some kind of bond to that film, and I know that Alice has a very good name among the filmmakers. She’s very well known. She’s a very friendly person. So I wasn’t surprised.”
I asked Baldýnský to elaborate what he thought made the film such a winner:
“I think it’s a film mainly focused on women, and since I am not a woman, I can’t really give a balanced review of it. When I was writing my review, I wrote that it was a film that was really focused on women, that women sit at the table and talk to themselves, and if a man goes to that table and listens in a bit, then we just don’t understand”
Most observers would contend that contemporary Czech cinema is not in a very good condition at present. Following the strong state support offered by the communist regime, and the brief creative flourish that occurred in the early nineties, today, Czech cinema is struggling to find a voice comparable to the world-wide following the country garnered during the 1960s New Wave. Cheaper-to-produce documentary films are flourishing, while dramatic ones are, many critics contend, still failing to offer Czech audiences anything new. I asked Tomáš Baldýnský if he agreed with this assessment:
“Well, I think it’s recovering. I think that our cinematography has been ill and it was kind of a grave illness a couple of years ago, and now I see, not only from the quality of films, but from the atmosphere among the filmmakers as well is that they’re preparing films with higher aims. They somehow feel the vibe of European cinema and the topics they are trying to present are more and more open to Europe and the world so I think that we are looking ahead to some better times.”
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