Slovak Films on British DVDs

Slovak cinema can appeal to foreign audiences also, thanks to the DVD production of the British publisher Second Run, in collaboration with the Slovak Film Institute. Last year, Pictures of the Old World (Obrazy starého sveta) and The Dragon’s Return (Drak sa vracia) were added to the collection of these DVDs.

The documentary Pictures of the Old World was made in 1972 by director Dušan Hanák who was inspired by Martin Martinček’s photographic series and who also collaborated with photographer Vladimír Vavrek. In his film Hanák steps into the personal spaces of old people from the mountain regions, he talks about their difficult lives but, at the same time, he unveils their inner resilience and the variety of their personalities. “I admired those old people for several reasons. They lived on the brink of society, sometimes excluded even from the village community, and their wisdom was related to their inner strength and positive thinking. They had humour and universal humanity,” said Dušan Hanák about the protagonists of Pictures of the Old World. His film was suppressed for
many years and it was a long time before it gained adequate attention when, for instance, it won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary or the Special Mention in the Documentary Category at the 1989 European
Film Awards. Second Run launched Pictures of
the Old World on DVD on the Anglophone market in February last year. Several short films by
Dušan Hanák and a booklet with an essay by film theoretician Jonathan Owen were included with the DVD. “If the objects and surfaces presented are very conspicuously the physical components of an ‘old world’, they are also tactile and alive in their dense, grainy textures. ... But of all its objets trouvés,
none are more potent, revealing or emphatically presented than the subjects’ faces, photographed with great attention in the still and moving shots alike, wrote Owen. The DVD received positive response in foreign media and the magazine Little White Lies put it in the TOP 20 DVD and Blu-ray titles of 2015.

This chart also included another DVD with a Slovak film from Second Run – The Dragon’s Return (Drak sa vracia). The black-and-white feature film by director Eduard Grečner, based on the novel by Dobroslav Chrobák, tells the story of a man’s forlorn attempt
to return to the environment and community which betrayed and rejected him. It is a simple story but depicted in a way that enhances its magnitude and significance. The film is remarkable especially for
the way in which Grečner manages to make the inner states of his characters and the atmosphere of their relations visible by working with the image and music, sounds or silence, with a limited use of dialogues. In this respect, The Dragon’s Return also excels thanks to the director of photography, Vincent Rosinec
and the composer Ilja Zeljenka. “Grečner had been dazzled by the book’s lyrical qualities, but he was also daunted by the challenge of transposing those qualities to film, of rendering visually the interior, ‘invisible’ realities that the novella captures poetically. ... The film’s audio-visual realization achieves a distinctive poetry of its own, balancing the tactile and concrete with the stylised and near-abstract,” wrote Jonathan Owen in an essay which is included in the booklet. The DVD also contains an introduction to the film by British film critic and historian Peter Hames, author of Best of Slovak Film 1921 – 1991, which was published by the Slovak Film Institute.

In the past, Second Run issued a DVD with the Slovak films The Sun in a Net (Slnko v sieti, dir. Štefan Uher, 1962) and Birdies, Orphans and Fools (Vtáčkovia, siroty a blázni, dir. Juraj Jakubisko, 1969).

Daniel Bernát