At’ zije Republika AKA Long Live the Republic (1965) d. Karel Kachyna
A film from my first initial list that I sent to Mark which was closely followed by an email from Mark requesting to see it. Kachyna’s film is not that well known sadly but certainly deserves to be. It features some very inventive cinematography and editing, particularly in its depiction of the present, past and the dreamlike imagery. The film is seen through the eyes of a child, a young 12 year old boy, as the Germans are leaving the boy’s hometown and the Russians are arriving. The boy is often seen at odds with others in the film, whether it be other village boys or adults, but his dreams of freedom take on somewhat conventional forms like the scene where he is transported into the air by kite or floats away on a block of ice after being chased by some other boys. There was another Czech film which was considered along with this one, which I was very much flying the flag for, which was Pieseň o sivom holubovi AKA The Song of the Grey Pigeon (1961) by Stanislav Barabas. A debut film from Barabas about the innocence of childhood and how it parallels with the destructive forces of war. The film was quite similar in style to Kachyna’s and for me, has one of the most tragic endings on celluloid. Mark and I discussed both films at length, I particularly felt the scenes with the younger boy in Barabas film were worthy of consideration whereas Mark preferred the scenes with the older boy and in particular a skating scene in the church. In the end the right choice was made with Long Live the Republic as it also now features on more than one occasion in the final cut of the film. It was not difficult to source this film as it is available commercially on DVD in the Czech Republic in a very good print with English subtitles.
Melodiya dlya sharmanki AKA Melody for a Street Organ (2009) d. Kira Muratova
This is the film that I saw in Rotterdam as part of a Kira Muratova retrospective and instantly fell in love with. I remember coming out of the screening knowing that Mark would also love the scene with little Nikita walking along with his balloons near the end of the film. The film tells a kind of Dickensian story, but for me its origins are also set firmly in fairytales too. Two young siblings (each with a different father) make their way on their own to Moscow to search for their respective fathers. The film is set around Christmas time, which adds another dimension with the cold, snowy city streets which the young orphans plod along encountering many unsavoury characters along the way. Muratova’s use of colour in the film is strong, particularly the colour blue; the young girl’s coat, the boy’s hat and one of his balloons. It is the scene though with young Nikita trudging through the snow with his multi-coloured balloons, not having eaten properly in days, walking to what unfortunately will be his untimely death that has the most resonance. It is one long take, as we follow him past the rich folk talking about exotic foods, as he walks down the steps the camera cranes up above him and in a gyroscopic movement swoops over him like a bird so that the balloons completely block out his little body, before then descending and following him as he continues his walk up the steps of an abandoned warehouse to what he hopes will be shelter for the night. As soon as I had got back home to England after Rotterdam, I tracked down a copy of the film to send to Mark. Mark was already very familiar with the work of Kira Muratova as he has been both an advocate of her work for more than a decade, lectured on her in Russia and of course, included her in The Story of Film (2011). He also indicated that he had spoken to her on the phone last year where she had mentioned this film to him but he had not yet got round to seeing it. Once he’d seen it, he loved it too, the balloon shot was in the final cut and it then meant trying to get hold of a better copy. The film was projected in Edinburgh in a private test screening behind closed doors in early April and two of the clips were deemed to be of inferior quality and did not look good when the image was projected full size on the cinema screen. One of these clips was Melody for a Street Organ (2009) The film had not been released on DVD anywhere in Europe but did receive a very limited DVD release in Russia without english subtitles but is long since out of print. I managed to get hold of this DVD via a contact in Russia and English subtitles were then overlaid for inclusion in the final edit.
Ma-eum-ui gohyang AKA A Hometown in Heart (1949) d. Yoon Yong-Kyu
I had seen this film literally days before I met Mark in London in the middle of February and I believe it was the film that was the last to join the line up of titles that would eventually be included in the final cut. A friend had sent it to me suggesting I should see it, and I felt it was sufficiently good enough to recommend to Mark to consider for possible inclusion, so sent him a copy. Once he had viewed it, he agreed and included the clip near the end of the film of the young boy-monk leaving the small mountain temple where he has been brought up, to head for the city to find his real mother. A film that deals with a boy’s abandonment at a temple and who is brought up by monks before becoming attached to a young widow who has lost her own child may sound like its going to be overly sentimental, but this film manages to avoid that pitfall. The cinematography of the countryside and around the temple is simply quite breathtaking, featuring many long shots. This film was fortunately very easy to source as there is a very good official DVD release by the Korean Film Archive with english subtitles.
Wrony AKA Crows (1994) d. Dorota Kedzierzawska
Mark had mentioned this film to me at the beginning of the project and it already featured in his original pitch and was to be linked with a scene from both Kes (1969) and Kauwboy (2012) about “children as parents”. I had never seen the film, and admit to never having heard of it before either. I managed to get hold of a copy of the film and watched it quite early on in the project. I could see instantly why it appealed as the theme of the film fitted perfectly within the segment where Mark wanted to use it. The film tells the story of “crow”, a girl of 10, who has few friends and rejects the attention of adults. The girl is ignored by her mother who sees her as a liability, one day whilst out “crow” spots a little girl whom she “kidnaps” and takes her away with her telling the child that she is now her mother and will look after her. Whilst I appreciate this description may make the film sound rather disturbing, its actually quite the opposite and is dealt with incredibly beautifully through the direction of the young actors and the mise-en-scene. This was one of the more difficult titles to track down a decent print of. Criminally this film has never been released on DVD and the version I initially obtained was from a Polish TV broadcast which still contained the TV indent in the corner of the image. The print was a little soft and for a film which relies on its colour palette, it looked disappointing. I approached a friend who was a Polish film critic to see if he could get me a copy of the film but alas he did not have it either. However he told me he knew the director and would ask her if she could send a copy. Unfortunately under the “Fair Use/Fair Dealing” policy, if we had of gone down this route it would have meant the clip could then not have been used at all. In the end, both fortunately and coincidentally, the film screened again on Polish TV in a much better print and also as a digital broadcast during the time we were putting the film together and I received a copy of the digital version.
Le Ballon Rouge AKA The Red Balloon (1956) d. Albert Lamorisse
On his way to school one morning young Pascal (played by the director’s son) spots a large red helium-filled balloon. The balloon seems to have a mind of its own as Pascal follows it around the streets of Paris. The film has a music score but virtually no dialogue and ends with a beautiful scene of Pascal being lifted up and taken over the city by a large group of coloured balloons. This film almost didn’t end up in the final version, hard as it may seem to think now but Mark and I discussed on more than one occasion whether it seemed too obvious to include this and Les quatre cent coups (1959) in the film. Was it what everybody expected to see? Would we just be including it to please people? At the end of the day the right decision was made to include both of them, not for the above two reasons but because they fitted the film and they were right for the segments in which each of them were included to emphasise Mark’s point.