25 September – 9 October

JIŘÍ MENZEL: MAKING COMEDIES IS NO FUN

Of all of the storied “New Wave” filmmakers who graduated from Prague’s FAMU film school in the 1960s, Jiří Menzel (1938–2020) was the first to gain significant international renown – his tirelessly charming debut feature, Closely Observed Trains (1966), won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 1968 – and the filmmaker whose career probably suffered least during the grim “Normalisation” years between the 1968 Soviet invasion and the lead-up to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Not to say he didn’t encounter interference – notably, his fourth feature, Larks on a String, completed in 1969, didn’t emerge until 1990 when it won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. An understated performer onscreen in his own films and those of others, Menzel remains best known as a writer-director of gently paced comedies steeped in pathos, and as the foremost adapter for the screen of works by key post-war Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal; accordingly, this season features three of Menzel’s six adaptations of Hrabal’s distinctively loquacious, often ribald novels: Closely Observed Trains, Larks on a String and I Served the King of England (2006). Menzel was wont to adapt other Czech literary greats too, including Josef Škvorecký and Menzel’s one-time landlord, Václav Havel; while this season includes the wistful Capricious Summer (1968), adapted from a novel by Vladislav Vančura. Rounding out the season is a delightful outlier in Menzel’s oeuvre, his 1978 tribute to the Czech filmmaking pioneers, Those Wonderful Movie Cranks and Robert Kolinsky’s excellent 2016 documentary, Jiří Menzel – To Make a Comedy Is No Fun.

Presented in partnership with the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia.

Wednesday 25 September

7:00pm CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS

Jiří Menzel (1966) 92 mins – M

Co-scripted and based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, Menzel’s much loved first feature is an elliptically funny, but marvellously perceptive observation of the quirks of humanity. A bittersweet coming-of-age tale of a train dispatcher (Václav Neckář) employed at a seemingly sleepy station, unfolds against the backdrop of Nazi occupation and features subtle symbolism and outstanding characterisations. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1968 and was banned in its home country after the Soviet invasion later the same year.

Digital restoration courtesy of the National Film Archive in Prague.


8:50pm CAPRICIOUS SUMMER

Jiří Menzel (1968) 74 mins – Unclassified 15+

Menzel’s first colour film reads like a twist on a classic joke about three men: a retired artillery officer, a priest and a proprietor of a bathhouse go swimming in a pond and get interrupted by rain… Adapted from a novel by influential writer Vladislav Vančura, it was released in the middle of the Prague Spring and became one of the highest-grossing works of the Czech New Wave. A gentle pastoral idyll that recalls Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne, it features the director himself in the role of a village acrobat alongside Menzel regular Rudolf Hrušínský.

Digital print courtesy of the National Film Archive in Prague.

Wednesday 2 October

7:00pm I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND

Jiří Menzel (2006) 113 mins – M

Menzel, for the sixth time, used a novel by Bohumil Hrabal as the source for his exuberant tale of the rise of a little man from lowly hot-dog vendor to millionaire – before his inevitable downfall. Played as a wily young man, with a deft mix of Keaton and Chaplin, by Ivan Barnev, then as an old man, with knowing serenity, by Oldřich Kaiser, our hero exposes the venal nature of capitalism while gleefully trying his best to embody it. Menzel veers closer to bawdy comedy than one would expect of a revered Eastern European auteur, but the resulting dissonance is frequently delightful.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.


9:05pm JIŘÍ MENZEL – TO MAKE A COMEDY IS NO FUN

Robert Kolinsky (2016) 80 mins – Unclassified 15+

Czech-Swiss filmmaker Kolinsky – hitherto better known as a virtuoso pianist – completed this illuminating, affectionate documentary after the release of Menzel’s cinematic swan song as a director, 2013’s underrated, operatic comedy, The Don Juans, but it captures Menzel still busy directing for the stage. Rich in clips from his key films and in Menzel’s anecdote-studded reflections on a six-decade-spanning career, it includes thoughtful tributes to his peculiar brand of comedy from friends and admirers including Miloš Forman, Ken Loach, István Szabó, Emir Kusturica and Menzel’s great friend and mentor, Věra Chytilová.

Wednesday 9 October

7:00pm LARKS ON A STRING

Jiří Menzel (1969/1990) 94 mins – Unclassified 15+

Shot on the heels of the Prague Spring and subsequently banned by the Czechoslovak government, Menzel’s pointed political satire was finally released after the fall of the Communist government in late 1989, winning the Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival. Adapted from a novel by acclaimed Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, and set in the 1950s, it follows a group of political dissidents sent to be re-educated by working in a scrap metal yard, where dark humour is mined from a bleak reality. With Rudolf Hrušínský (The Cremator) and Vlastimil Brodský.

Digital restoration courtesy of the National Film Archive in Prague.


8:50pm THOSE WONDERFUL MOVIE CRANKS

Jiří Menzel (1979) 90 mins – Unclassified 15+

Produced to mark the 80th anniversary of Czech cinema, this lively, charming comic tribute to the country’s movie pioneers is heavily informed by Menzel’s own knowledge of film history – yet not at all bound by it – creating a nostalgic world of imagined characters and films that often act as stand-ins for the real thing. Menzel regular Rudolf Hrušínský leads the cast, playing a magician, travelling projectionist and founder of Prague’s first permanent cinema, with Menzel himself, of course, playing the key role of the first Czech film director, based on Jan Kříženecký. With Vladimír Menšík and Vlasta Fabiánová.

Digital print courtesy of the National Film Archive in Prague.

7 February
OPENING NIGHT 2024

7 February – 21 February
FROM THE BOULEVARDS OF PARIS TO THE DOCKS OF CHERBOURG: LANDMARKS OF THE FRENCH FILM MUSICAL

28 February – 13 March
"LIVING MAY BE TRAGIC, BUT LIFE ISN'T": THE FILMS OF THE TAVIANI BROTHERS

20 March – 3 April
IN THE AFTERGLOW: THE MERCURIAL STARDOM OF GLORIA GRAHAME

Wednesday 10 April
MAN OF THE CINEMA: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN FLAUS AT 90

17 April – 1 May
KEEP ROLLING: ANN HUI'S COUNTER-CINEMA

8 May – 22 May
"ALL ART IS ONE": THE VISIONARY CINEMA OF MICHAEL POWELL AND EMERIC PRESSBURGER

29 May – 12 June
WRITING WITH HER EYES: SUSO CECCHI D'AMICO, SCREENWRITER AS OBSERVER

19 June – 3 July
THE HOUSE THAT MOHSEN BUILT: THE FILMS OF SAMIRA MAKHMALBAF, MARZIEH MESHKINI AND MOHSEN MAKHMALBAF

10 July – 24 July
THE PAIN OF LIVING: JEAN EUSTACHE, BEING CINEMA

Wednesday 31 July
BETWEEN THE WAVE AND REVOLUTION: THE RETURN OF RIVETTE’S LEGENDARY L’AMOUR FOU

4–18 September
BLIND BEASTS, RED ANGELS AND HOODLUM SOLDIERS: THE IRRESISTIBLE CINEMA OF YASUZO MASUMURA

25 September – 9 October
JIŘÍ MENZEL: MAKING COMEDIES IS NO FUN

16–23 October
OF MEN AND MONSTERS: THE CINEMA OF NIKOS KOUNDOUROS

Wednesday 30 October
CONTESTED HISTORIES: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF JENI THORNLEY

6–20 November
THE FIRST AND LAST OF ENGLAND: THE QUEER LEGACIES OF DEREK JARMAN

Wednesday 27 November
PARADING THE PAST: RECENT ERNST LUBITSCH RESTORATIONS

4–11 December
THE SEEDS OF CHANGE: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF TOM ZUBRYCKI

Wednesday 18 December
CARLTON AND BEYOND: THE MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY FILM SOCIETY IN THE 1960s