Czech films to watch while you stay at home

07 July 2020

Czech Film

Czech films to watch while you stay at home

Czech Film

Czech films to watch while you stay at home

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While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the shutdown of cinemas around the world, decades of Czech cinema — from the pioneers to the newest generation — are available for binge-watching on a plethora of streaming services.

Article by Martin Kudláč for Czech Film magazine / Summer 2020

For those privileged enough not to have to go to work amid the pandemic, even while you stay at home, Czech (and Czechoslovak) cinema can be experienced online in incredible breadth, depth, and variety. From the debuts of promising talents to the modern classics, from masterworks to early works, digital platforms offer it all: fiction, nonfiction, animations, shorts, features, series, full filmographies, curated selections, local productions, international projects with Czech participation—the mix of films available to stream online is truly eclectic.

Local Productions (Mostly) for Locals

Aerovod, a Czech streaming platform run by Aerofilms distribution, has seen a fourfold increase in the number of users on its platform. The mainstream comedy Owners, theater director and actor Jiří Havelka’s feature-length directing debut, which won Best Screenplay at the 2019 Czech Lion Awards and the Czech Film Critics’ Awards, was Aerovod’s most-watched film in TK. Surprisingly, Czech viewers also showed increased interest in another domestic production, Party Hard, a Czech riff on American Pie. This independent teenage gross-out comedy, which pushes the envelope even further than its U.S. counterpart, was directed by the controversial Czech rapper Řezník.

Meanwhile national public broadcaster Czech Television has made available online its entire catalog of original programming, spanning fiction and nonfiction alike, from TV series by filmmakers — Petr Zelenka’s sitcom, Dubbing Street, nominated for Monte Carlo’s Golden Nymph Awards; Viktor Tauš’s drug series, Rats; Miroslav Krobot’s metacomedy The Doom of Dejvice Theater, set behind the scenes of a famous Prague theater — to the recently number-one-rated, Most!, directed by Jan Prušinovský, tackling xenophobia and prejudice with Czech humor. Two of the most intriguing nonfiction projects on the platform are Czech Journal, a documentary series scrutinizing local affairs, and Kmeny (Tribes), which delves into various subcultures, both directed by a rotating cast of established and emerging documentarists.

In the realm of web TV, Television Seznam offers a slew of original series, notably the sitcom by Jan Prušinovský and emerging talent Andy Fehu, Autobazar Monte Carlo. Other web series on offer include Peter Bebjak’s post-apocalyptic The Stain, Fehu’s thriller series, Growroom, and Adam Sedlák’s acclaimed “desktop” series about millennials, The Term.

More episodic storytelling can be found on HBO GO, also available in localized versions outside the Czech Republic. Notable mentions here include the crime series Mamon, which netted the Czech Lion Award for Best Television Drama Series in 2016, the psychological crime series Wasteland, codirected by Ivan Zachariáš and Alice Nellis, and the spy miniseries The Sleepers by Ivan Zachariáš.

For the most comprehensive selection of Czech cinema, Doc Alliance (DAFilms) is your go-to source. The site’s initial mission was to support genre diversity of documentaries, and to make quality creative documentary works available throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. However, the platform has since expanded its offerings to fiction films, including domestic theatrical releases from 2019. Among the notable works now available are Owners (the successful comedy mentioned above); Václav Marhoul’s celebrated WWII drama, The Painted Bird, adapted from the controversial Jerzy Kosiński novel of the same name; The Glass Room, based on Simon Mawer’s 2009 Booker Prize–shortlisted novel and set in the famous Villa Tugendhat; and Jiří Vejdělek’s adaptation of Evžen Boček’s popular humor series, The Last Aristocrat.

From nascent talents to revered masters

The most comprehensive selection of Czech cinema offers Doc Alliance (DAFilms). The site’s initial mission was to support genre diversity of documentaries, and to make quality creative documentary works available throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. However, the platform has since expanded its offerings to fiction films, including domestic theatrical releases from 2019. Among the notable works now available are the mainstream comedy Owners, theater director and actor Jiří Havelka’s feature-length directing debut, which won Best Screenplay at the 2019 Czech Lion Awards and the Czech Film Critics’ Awards; Václav Marhoul’s celebrated WWII drama, The Painted Bird, adapted from the controversial Jerzy Kosiński novel of the same name; The Glass Room, based on Simon Mawer’s 2009 Booker Prize–shortlisted novel and set in the famous Villa Tugendhat; and Jiří Vejdělek’s adaptation of Evžen Boček’s popular humor series, The Last Aristocrat.

DAFilms also presents an accurate view of Czech cinema across generations. Among the youngest crop of filmmakers you can find on the site, establishing themselves not only at home but also abroad, are Beata Parkanová, director of the family drama Moments, which centers on a self-sacrificing woman who struggles to please everyone; internationally recognized award-winner Olmo Omerzu, with his debut and second features; and actor-director Jiří Mádl, whose debut, To See the Sea, features the innovative use of found-footage style in a combination with coming-of-age and detective story, while his sophomore feature, On the Roof, is an intergenerational drama. The streaming service offers a larger collection of domestic productions, including the under-the-radar directing debut by scriptwriter Kristina Nedvědová, Snowing!, and Bohdan Karásek’s underground-ish mid-length “apartment” films, and feature debut, Karel, Me and You, “the first Czech mumblecore,” crowned Discovery of the Year by Czech film critics in 2019.

DAFilms abounds with works by established Czech filmmakers. Documentary directing and producing duo Zuzana Piussi and Vít Janeček had a prolific period recently, finishing The Siege, The State Capture, and University and Freedom. Viewers can revisit (or discover) Czech Dream, the infamous feature debut by notorious documentarists Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, along with their follow-up, Czech Peace, and several installments of the docuseries Czech Journal. Works that travelled internationally include Petr Václav’s dramedy We Are Never Alone, his social realist antiracist drama The Way Out, and his documentary on Josef Mysliveček, Confession of the Vanished, which served as preparation for his ambitious period biopic about Mysliveček, Il Boemo, now forthcoming. Independent arthouse auteur Václav Kadrnka has both his movies on the platform too: Eighty Letters, his lauded minimalist debut, and the Crystal Globe award-winning medieval road movie, Little Crusader.

Most of the documentary films on dafilms.com can be viewed worldwide, including The Siege, The State Capture, University and Freedom, Czech Peace, and Confession of the Vanished. The same goes for most feature fiction films, including To See the Sea, Rules of Lies, Long Live the Family!, The Way Out, Eighty Letters, and Little Crusader.

Nor does DAFilms neglect the works of venerated Czech filmmakers. Viewers can find the majority of films by documentarist Helena Třešíková on the platform, as well as 13 films by celebrated Czechoslovak New Wave director Věra Chytilová — from her 1962 debut, A Bag of Fleas, to the 1988 tragicomedy Tainted Horseplay, as well as her world-famous anarchic romp Daisies, ranked sixth on the BBC’s list of greatest films by women. Delve deeper into the Czechoslovak New Wave with Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighting, Miloš Forman’s Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde, Jaromil Jireš’s Cry, or Jan Němec’s Diamonds of the Night. You can also see works by the Czechoslovak New Wave’s “enfant terrible,” and one of the most influential documentarists, Karel Vachek — from his 1963 debut, Moravian Hellas, to the more recent cinematic essays, A New Hyperion, or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood and Bohemia Docta or The Labyrinth of the World and the Lust-House of the Heart (A Divine Comedy). The site also features seminal works of Czech cinema, including Gustav Machatý’s 1932 sensual film, Ecstasy, which stars Hedy Lamarr and set new censorship standards; Alfred Radok’s 1949 forgotten masterpiece, Distant Journey, regarded as “the definitive Czech Holocaust film”; and, one of the most important sci-fi films in history, Jindřich Polák’s Ikarie XB 1, which went on to inspire Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For a deeper exploration of Czech cinema, the National Film Archive (NFA) has been sharing films from its vault via the YouTube channel Czech Film Classics. NFA, the institution charged with preserving the country’s cinematic heritage, offers viewers the most important and influential works, many of which are unknown abroad. The current selection includes Juraj Herz’s 1981 sci-fi horror, Ferat Vampire, starring a car that runs on human blood; Oldřich Lipský’s 1966 avant-garde comedy, Happy End, which runs in reverse, beginning with the execution of the protagonist; and Who Wants to Kill Jessie?, the pioneering science-fiction comedy by Václav Vorlíček (also 1966). NFA is working on adding English subtitles to the films. Some of the offerings are already equipped with English subtitles, including the 1937 film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s famous allegorical play, The White Disease — directed by Hugo Haas, a Czech director and actor who went on to achieve success in Hollywood, where he worked in the ateliers of Charlie Chaplin. Also available with subtitles is an adaptation of Čapek’s sci-fi mystery novel Krakatit, by iconic director Otakar Vávra, dubbed “the father of Czech cinema.”

Czech Cinema Streaming Worldwide

Czech films are also abundantly available on international VOD and streaming services. Netflix, for instance, landed one of the most interesting and internationally successful debuts in recent years: I, Olga Hepnarova, by Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda, inspired by actual events in which a woman’s existential crisis led to mass murder. Other Czech films on Netflix include the modern classics Kolya, The Elementary School, and Zelary. Amazon Prime offers a mix of recent mainstream productions, such as Home Care, Ice Mother, and, one of the most successful films of 2016, The Teacher, as well as genre classics like the detective film parody Adele Has Not Had Her Supper Yet and the musical Western parody Lemonade Joe. Google Play currently offers the family fairy tale The Seven Ravens and the biopic drama A Prominent Patient, which swept the Czech Lion awards in 2017, winning 12 of its 13 nominations.

The British service BFI Player is currently featuring Věra Chytilová’s “feminist black comedy” Traps, while the U.S. subscription service Fandor has Wiktor Grodecki’s 1996 documentary, Body Without Soul, as well as his 1997 drama Mandragora and the documentary Not Angels But Angels. Together, these three comprise a trilogy about the Czech porn industry and the country’s burgeoning trade in underage male prostitution.

Spamflix, the largest online library of avant-garde and cult films, features Petr Zelenka’s metacinematic absurdist dramedy Lost in Munich, while U.S. distributor IFC Films is planning to release The Painted Bird on its VOD service, and FilmDoo, the UK-based video-on-demand platform specializing in independent and world cinema, currently has Tomasz Mielnik’s feature debut, Journey to Rome, a stylized spiritual road comedy and homage to cinematic classics.

The free digital streaming service YUYU TV has a corner of its library reserved for Czech productions, most notably Jan Hřebejk’s Innocence and the family tragicomedy Hostage by Juraj Nvota. Kanopy, a U.S. streaming platform for higher education institutions and libraries, offers films and documentaries from all over the world, including several recent Czech films, free of charge for users with a card from a participating library. Viewers can watch Ondřej Trojan’s biopic Toman, Bohdan Sláma’s dramas A Country Teacher and Something Like Happiness; or Andrea Sedláčková’s 1980s sports drama, Fair Play, selected as the Czech entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

And, last but far from least, independent streaming service the Criterion Channel (U.S. and Canada) has been refining its library of classic arthouse films, with Czech cinema occupying a prominent niche. Fans of the Czechoslovak New Wave are in for a real treat, starting with the New Wave’s “manifesto,” Pearls of the Deep, a five-part anthology based on short stories by Bohumil Hrabal, directed by Věra Chytilová, Jiří Menzel, Jaromil Jireš, Jan Němec, and Evald Schorm. Criterion also highlights Chytilová’s first feature-length films Something Different and Daisies, both under the Essential Arthouse label. Jiří Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains, which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 40th Academy Awards, is available alongside The Joke by Jaromil Jireš, one of the last films of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Criterion’s library also includes František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová (1967), hailed as one of the greatest achievements in Czechoslovak cinema, as well as cult favorite Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a surrealist horror fantasy, also directed by Jireš. Finally, capping off the must-see Czech film masterworks of all-time, Criterion features two captivating and influential works by Karel Zeman, aka “the Czech Méliès”: Invention for Destruction and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen.

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