02 May 2023
Czech cinema has been renowned for its captivating storytelling, unique style, and talented filmmakers. However, in recent years, a new wave of female directors has emerged, bringing fresh perspectives and unique auteurial styles to the industry and reshaping the future of Czech cinema.
Article by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Summer 2023
Adéla Komrzý: Crafting socially engaged and poetic observations
Emerging documentarian Adéla Komrzý is one of the latest breakout talents in her field. Her recent work, Art Talent Show (2022), was showcased at New York's Museum of the Moving Image as part of the First Look Festival, an event dedicated to introducing new and innovative cinema. The New York screening is just the latest in a series of successes for the film, which previously received both the Proxima Award and FIPRESCI Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2022 following its world premiere.
Art Talent Show isn't Komrzý's first notable work; she previously gained recognition with her observational documentary Intensive Life Unit (2021). Much like Art Talent Show, this film also secured two awards at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival following its world premiere. Additionally, it won the Czech Lion for Best Documentary at the national film awards and received the Best Documentary accolade at the Czech Film Critics’ Awards.
Adéla Komrzý became known and recognized for her unique style, which focuses on observation, social commentary, and delving into contemporary issues. She masterfully combines observational methods with a flair for uncovering fresh perspectives in her socially-critical documentaries, enabling her to document genuine and thought-provoking moments.
The director's auteur style developed during her studies at FAMU's documentary department. Her segment in the documentary Television Celebration (2013), supervised by Vít Klusák, earned her special recognition from the FITES jury. Komrzý's signature poetics were given room to develop in her 67-minute episode Teaching War (2016), part of the Czech Journal docuseries. Examining the topic of reintroducing mandatory military training, the documentary explores perspectives from primary school children to politicians, and won the Andrej Stankovič Award for extraordinary work in cinema.
Komrzý's unique approach encompasses two distinct styles. In her early works, the director engages in a dialogue with her subjects, unafraid to step into focus or ask direct questions. The key distinction is that Komrzý remains faithful to the observational mode of documentary making, avoiding staged situations or reconstructions.
Her documentary-making practice also embraces a more poetic and experimental approach, partly inspired by Harun Farocki's work. This abstract aspect of her filmography includes short school films such as Every Palsy Has Its Silver Lining (2014), Hotel Atol**** (2013), and Moratorium Vondrejs (2014).
Her short documentary work, Absence of Reciprocity, Vulnerability, Losses, and Risks (2017), more explicitly displays Komrzý’s experimental expression. This film utilizes found and archival footage and close-up shots and incorporates disturbing clips leaked from the U.S. military. The blend of these elements showcases the diverse range of her filmmaking style, highlighting her ability to navigate both poetic and experimental realms.
Both strands of Adéla Komrzý’s filmmaking style have culminated in her recent emergence on the international stage. While completing her studies at FAMU, participating in the Filmuni Babelsberg Konrad Wolf residency, and joining the Berlinale Talents initiative, she managed to work on three significant projects simultaneously. Art Talent Show and Intensive Life Unit were preceded by a more personal work: a feature-length television film, Viva Video, Video Viva (2018).
In Viva Video, Video Viva, Komrzý delves into the origins of Czech video art under communism, as she recreates the very first video art exhibition. This event serves as a reunion for the pioneers of Czech video art, including her grandfather, and offers an opportunity to explore their lasting impact and legacy.
Intensive Life Unit, which the director considers her true feature debut, marks a slight departure from the director's socially-engaged approach, as she suppresses her presence in the documentary and adopts Frederick Wiseman's mode of pure observation. In this documentary, she follows the pioneers of palliative care in the Czech Republic, shedding light on the ultimate social taboo of dying. On one hand, Komrzý follows several patients and their families who consented to be part of the film, allowing the filmmaker to capture their most private moments. On the other hand, the film also serves as a portrayal of an institution.
In her latest work, Art Talent Show, which was filmed in collaboration with Tomáš Bojar, Komrzý embraces a more poetic and personal aspect of her filmography. The film offers a loose observation of the entrance exams at an art academy in Prague over the course of several days. Art Talent Show embodies another example of Wiseman-esque observation, with Komrzý acknowledging thematic and ethical influences from Claire Simon. The naturalistic visual style captures the authenticity and immediacy experienced by both aspiring art students and seasoned tutors.
Komrzý is working on a new documentary series for Czech Television, focusing on a female communication mediator facilitating dialogue between two disagreeing parties. Each episode will concentrate on a single conflict resolution session, with the director eager to capture interactions between individuals and institutions.
In addition, she is developing a new feature-length project with Czech producer Nina Numankadić of Marina Films (Notes from Eremocene, White on White), intending to refine her Wiseman-like instincts, as the documentary's subject will revolve around an institution. Komrzý is currently considering establishing her own production company to serve as a platform for her upcoming auteur works.
Natálie Císařovská: Boundary-breaking, female-driven psychological narratives
Unlike Komrzý, another emerging Czech talent, Natálie Císařovská, is awaiting her big-screen breakthrough. She has completed her feature-length directorial debut, Her Body, which has already generated buzz within the domestic industry as a highly anticipated release. Having studied documentary filmmaking at FAMU under the guidance of Czech master Helena Třeštíková, Císařovská started her career as a documentary filmmaker.
However, her career began to diverge as she continued working on television documentaries while simultaneously developing her unique style in fictional filmmaking. Her Body (2023), a fiction film inspired by true events, represents the culmination of both her professional and artistic paths.
As a documentarian, Císařovská has created various short films, including Meat Jihad (2011), which follows a confrontation between an anti-Islamist activist and the chairman of the Union of Islamic Communities in the Czech Republic. While studying, she began working for Czech Television on documentary series such as the ecological Don't Give Up (1992-) and Queer (2013-), which focuses on sexual minorities. Additionally, she contributed to the long-running show Our Countryside (2000-), showcasing Czech countryside transformations and residents' stories.
Císařovská's exploration of fiction filmmaking began with The Hour Between the Dog and Wolf (2014), a short film that introduced her signature style of psychological realism and female-driven narratives. She continued in this direction in When the Sun Goes Down (2014), examining themes like freedom, self-realization, and co-dependency in relationships. Her work consistently focuses on female perspectives while avoiding clichés and stereotypes.
Before her feature-length debut, Císařovská directed the notable 51-minute docudrama Around Milena Jesenská (2018) for Czech Television. The film explores the life of Czech journalist Milena Jesenská, known for her connection to Franz Kafka.
Císařovská had another breakthrough with her 31-minute docufiction Francek (2020), a period biopic that follows the early life of František Kupka, a Czech pioneer of abstract painting. Unlike Around Milena Jesenská, this film is a coming-of-age story that explores the protagonist's emerging sexuality, including his first love, which happens to be a sculpture. Císařovská defies biopic conventions and emphasizes the film's poetic elements and magical realism.
Her Body, which is awaiting its world premiere, represents the culmination of Císařovská's early career and a fulfillment of her creative vision. The film, a period biopic, is inspired by the life of Czech professional high-diver Andrea Absolonová, who became a prominent porn actress after a career-ending injury and died at the age of 27. Set in the late 1990s, Her Body follows the ambitious Andrea as she works to qualify for the Olympic Games and build a fruitful career. However, her future is suddenly cut short and her world comes crashing down. Driven by her desire to perform, to use her body as an instrument, and to exhibit her sexuality, Andrea turns to the world of porn. Like Around Milena Jesenská and Francek, Her Body is based on thorough research, but Císařovská and co-writer Aneta Honzková use the central story to explore an array of subjects.
By contrasting the worlds of professional sport and the porn industry, Císařovská highlights the similarities based on the performance of the body, while also acknowledging the social stigma attached to one of them. Her Body fully encapsulates Císařovská's signature style of modern, non-judgmental psychological realism, without making overt political or social statements. The film is set to be released in theaters domestically by Bontonfilm in 2023.
With Her Body on the brink of its world premiere, filmmaker Císařovská is already looking ahead to her next two projects. Her sophomore film, Wild Guys, draws inspiration from her experience directing a survival island reality show, aiming to uncover the behind-the-scenes drama and reveal the inner workings of such productions. With a focus on the crew, directors, and showrunners, Císařovská plans to explore the cynical side of television without passing judgment. Co-written with Her Body collaborator Aneta Honzková, Wild Guys has a target release date of 2025.
Císařovská, who continues her work with Czech Television, plans to take advantage of the growing domestic VOD market with a new project inspired by her previous works. The upcoming period biopic miniseries Primadonna focuses on the life of Czech opera singer Ema Destinnová, who defied social conventions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The series will explore a passionate love story, Destinnová's clash with nationalism as she brings her Arab tenor lover to the Czech theater, and an alleged lesbian affair. Drawing inspiration from The Favorite (2018), Císařovská aims to challenge traditional period biopic narratives. The director hopes to release the miniseries by 2025.