My love of cinema goes back to my childhood when my mother would take me to the cinema every week, mainly for her to learn to speak English. Yet for me it gave me exhilarating experiences that opened up new worlds and ideas. At High School, we were shown films every Friday afternoon, some of which were subtitled, opening up more experiences including appreciating cinema from around the world.
Apart from German cinema (my first language is German, although I was born in Australia), European films beguiled me, and some films from Czechoslovakia and the New Wave of the 1960s, told me stories that continue to live with me.
Closely Observed Trains (1966) directed by Jiri Menzel, provided me with a distinct perspective on World War 2, living with the Nazi invasion, and the way one young man, a railway worker, would seek out personal gratification in straitened times. His attempts to lose his virginity in a symbolic way to cope with his life, are both amusing and quite revealing. He meets a young woman who is part of the resistance movement during the war, and this encounter proves to be tragic. Menzel has made a poignant observation about wartime in a distinctive and compelling way, allowing the audience to ponder on this historical perspective from a personal point of view. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, and still resonates strongly today.
The Shop on Main Street (1965) directed by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos, also set during the Nazi period of World War 2, is a Slovak set story of an elderly Jewish woman running a button shop, who is forced to be “managed” by a conscripted Aryan carpenter, as Jewish businesses were under threat by the Nazi regime. As the film progresses, and the friendship between these two people develops, the prospective rounding up of Jews to be transported to camps looms. This affectionate and heart-breaking story mirrors the events that were taking place where Jews were progressively removed from society due to the Nazi genocide program. The film also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, but more particularly, the lead actress, Ida Kaminska, was nominated for an acting Oscar.
Hence, I have a special appreciation of Czech and Slovak Cinema, and the distinctive approach filmmakers take in portraying stories.