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A six-film collection of movies made in the swinging Czechoslovakian 1960s? Yeah, we're excited, too....
Criterion / 513 Minutes / 1966-1969 / Unrated / Street Date: April 24, 2012
Jiri Menzel isn't a stranger to The Criterion Collection - his Closely Watched Trains has been available on the line for years now - but his contributions to this Eclipse set (as well as the other movies included) have been all but impossible to find for years. Of the "new wave" sensibilities that ran across Europe in the 1960s, Czechoslovakia's has, until this Pearls of the Czech New Wave box set, been decidedly absent from the American DVD market.
Enter Eclipse: With this six-film collection, those of us who are barely familiar with the Czech new wave as an inset essay from a chapter in a film history book are able to experience a sextet of pictures that are vivid encapsulations of a very particular time and space. These aren't six masterworks of the form - as individual pictures, they're more engrossing in their cultural nuance than their narrative savvy - but they provide the feeling that one is getting a veritable crash course in a sort of filmmaking that definitely lies on the fringe of popular familiarity.
Vera Chytilova's Daises (1966) is an early piece of feminist cinema that is bright, bold, and bizarre as all get out, Return of the Prodigal Son (1967) provides a damning and acidic perspective on the tumultuous cultural sea change of the era, and A Report on the Party and Guests (1966) is another treatise on the political trickiness of the day. We also get an anthology film (Pearls of the Deep (1966)), another Jiri Menzel picture (Capricious Summer (1968)), as well as the clear highlight of the collection, an adaptation of Milan Kundera's novel The Joke (1969) by director Jaromil Jires.
It wouldn't be completely forthcoming to say it's easy getting through Pearls of the Czech New Wave - it often (quite purposefully, I'll add) intends to confound and challenge its viewers with historical and aesthetic complexity that frequently dulls its emotional effect - but as an Eclipse set, it's nevertheless revelatory. These are movies made in a time and place that this writer had little (okay, no) familiarity with before this box set came along, and now I've had exposure to a notable cross-section of some of the subgenre's most popular and notorious efforts. That's Eclipse for you - opening up the dormant visions of exotic filmographies one collection at a time...