If you have a soft spot for European art-house cinema, you will want to turn your gaze to Slovak films and their many auteur filmmakers. Ignited by the worldwide New Wave movement which occurred elsewhere in the 60s, Slovak filmmakers together with their Czech counterparts brought an array of classics to world cinema while portraying a unique setting and place.
Slovak Films in the 60s
Slovak film in the 60s gave rise to many innovative films, influencing generations of filmmakers since; these achievements are especially note-worthy considering the restrictive environment in which films were made, relying as they did on state approval. (Unsurprisingly, many lauded films were banned at the time.)
With a penchant for experimentation, Slovak films dabbled in surrealism, magical realism, and avant-garde filming techniques. Dazzling montages, theatrical techniques, puppetry (a Czech and Slovak tradition) and mime are just some of the landmarks of Slovak filmmaking at its best.
Starting with the drama Shop on Main Street (1966), which won an Oscar for its humane portrayal of the relationship between conscience and the pressure to go against it during WWII while the country briefly served as a German puppet state, Slovak filmmakers have produced a slate of films that are as poignant as they are visually appealing. What’s really interesting here is how Slovak filmmakers often treat serious topics with a deftness and wry sense of humor that, bit by bit, manages to encapsulate the mood of the country.
Mostly known for his black comedy The Cremator (1968), Juraj Herz’s filmography spans a wide range of genres – from horror and surrealist fairytale, to absurdist detective story to burlesque musical. Inspired by the forays of Federico Fellini, Herz’s films display an open affection for expressionism, 'the absurd', and grotesque comedy. His execution, however, is always formally precise, lending a welcome tension to his films.
The Cremator, which is familiar to festival circuit audiences and film buffs, depicts an increasingly deranged cremator who, lured by National Socialism, plans to capitalize on the bourgeois promises of the Nazi occupation. Based on the novel by Ladislav Fuks, the film follows the protagonist’s ambitions to increase the productivity of his crematorium business while he goes about idealizing the ritual murder of his Jewish wife.
Herz also assisted with other Jewish-themed works, most notably Shop on Main Street, The Long Journey, and Diamonds of the Night. His films include Morgiana (1971), Passage (1998), and the helming of two French films in the Maigret series.
Herz’s filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0381228/
Martin Sulik’s films are known for their nostalgic photography of the Slovak countryside, low-key yet haunting music, flirtation with the irrational as all-too-natural givens, and episodic structure. Since the early 90s, Sulik brought Everything I Like (1992) followed by the acclaimed Zahrada.
Drawing from fairy-tale mysticism, Sulik’s characters act as both mythical archetypes and embodiments of everymen in modern life. Zahrada invites you to cast aside trappings of modern society and go back to a simpler, almost counterintuitive way of life, where everything is as "it should be". The almost dry, matter-of-fact depictions perfectly fuse reality with the magic latent in it.
Sulik’s most recent film is Gypsy (2011); it has garnered multiple awards for its coming-of-age story of a Roma teenager at a life crossroads.
Martin Sulik’s filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0838499/
Arguably Slovak film’s best-known director abroad, Jakubisko has brought to fore such classics as The Deserter and the Nomads (1968), Birds, Orphans and Fools (1970) and An Ambiguous Report about the End of the World (1997).
With its strong visual quality influenced by the director’s background in painting and photography, Juraj Jakubisko is Slovakia’s wizard of magical realism. While his films vary in genres, archetypes of society issues are typically represented through vivacious characters navigating an inevitably tragic life. With a critical eye on society, Jakubisko’s films intersperse realism and outrageous events and characters, with surreal sequences now and then.
One of the director’s quintessential films is Millenium Bee. In it, he delves into the village life of a family over a 30-year period preceding and following World War I. Ostensibly, it charts the whims of fate in the lives a bricklayer and beekeeper, as well as their offspring’s involvement in the world at large. But with a generous eye for its subjects, no character is overlooked in the village.
More recently Jakubisko introduced his first English-language effort, Bathory, to audiences.
Jakukisko’s filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0416036/