Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"All My Good Countrymen"

There is usually much disagreement in Goethe Girl's household when it comes to movies, but last night we both enjoyed the film All My Good Countrymen, made by the Czech director Vojtech Jasny back in 1968. Since it concerns the changes wrought in a Moravian village in the decades after World War II, in particular the Sovietization of life, it was immediately banned right after it was made. Jasny  himself, like a million of his countrymen, left for the West after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hard to believe, but the Prague Spring was 50 years ago

The film was in the "New Wave" style of European movie-making (or La Nouvelle Vague) of the 1950s and 1960s, what Wikipedia refers to as filmmaking linked by its self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form. Translated, that means the films can be unbearable to watch (Jean-Luc Godard), but there are exceptions, Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut being among my favorites. I particularly like Rohmer's talky movies of contemporary social manners.

The movie was visually captivating. Jasny has said that he had the paintings of Breughel in mind. The scene of a dance in the village seemed directly taken from "The Wedding Dance" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The hero of the movie, the villager who will not go along with the communists and whom they continually try to break, is often seen in his fields scything, as in the Bruegel painting "Harvesting."

All My Good Countrymen takes place over the course of ten years, beginning in 1945, and concerns the creeping destruction of social bonds, the selling out and the betrayals among a group of friends as they seek to survive communist rule. We know that there are still people who believe the communist dream can be salvaged, and Jasny confirmed in an interview that the Italian film director Luchino Visconti initially declined to recommend All My Good Countrymen for viewing at Cannes because of its negative view of communism. No doubt about it, communism exercised a reverse Midas touch. The first thing the comrades do is appropriate the farmstead of the richest farmer in order to turn it into a cooperative farm. Naturally it fails.

For me the movie was of interest for the view it offered of a now-disappeared way of life, which one could still see when I was a student in Germany in the 1960s. In a way it allowed a measure of how far the world had "progressed" in the last fifty years, by which I mean become materially affluent. Much has been lost, no doubt about it. In a sense, affluence has made us less adult-like.

Picture: Radio Praha

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