Thursday, November 30, 2006

Czech (and Rusyn!) Modernism on Film

Hot on the heels of the Seventh Annual New Czech Films Festival earlier this month, BAM is running a second Czech film festival, this time focusing on Czech Modernism.

Twelve films are on the schedule, all dating from 1926-1949, when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia. Two highlights are the silent film The Kreuzer Sonata (Kreuzerova sonáta, 1926) and From Saturday to Sunday (Ze soboty na neděli, 1931).

Of particular interest to Carpatho-Rusyns is the first film ever to feature a Rusyn story with sound: Faithless Marijka (Marijka nevěrnice, also known in North America as The Forgotten Land, 1934) directed by Rusynophile Czech director and author Vladislav Vančura.

The film is based on a screenplay by Rusynophile Czech author Ivan Olbracht, with Karel Nový, and features a soundtrack by Bohuslav Martinů - himself a Slav of New York (Check out Unfaithful Marijka, An “Independent Film” – Martinu’s Contribution to the Czech Film Music .pdf, page 15-17).

Many of Olbrachts novels feature Rusyn themes and are set in Subcarpathia Rus, including Nikola Šuhaj loupežnik. Olbracht is also known for a series of journalistic reports on conditions in Subcarpathian Rus from the 1930s.

It was filmed in the Rusyn village of Kolochava (where there is a small museum dedicated to Olbracht) and all of the actors were locals speaking their own languages: Rusyn villagers speaking Rusyn, Jewish barkeeps and shopkeepers speaking Yiddish, police speaking in Czech. Marijka herself is played by a Rusyn girl, Hanna Shkelebei, from another Rusyn village, Vyshnii Bystryi.

The Village Voice review of the festival,
Czech, Please, unfortunately uses the outdated “Ruthenians” to refer to the Rusyns but otherwise features Faithless Marijka prominently. J. Hoberman writes: “The movie is a tale of backward development and backwoods passion but, despite a few awkwardly interpolated studio shots, its stark premise is secondary to an evocation of the wild Carpathian landscape.”

For more on Rusyn cinema and Rusyns in cinema, check out this entry from the
Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

The festival runs through 11 December. Faithless Marijka screens on 10 December at 6:50 p.m.

No comments: