Pictures Of The Old World (1972)

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Watched this one a little while back with Mary as part of a Czech night double bill with Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. First time with Hanák.

Amazing documentary about old, isolated rural people in Czechoslovakia after the events of 1968. Not an overt political focus besides the Tarr notion that these people have been profoundly left behind (check the Turin Horse connection on the poster too).

Besides Tarr definitely thinking of Koppel’s Sleep Furiously – similarly essayistic, but less chorographic (these people seem isolated even from each other, despite the sense of agreement over values) and more theatrical. (Important feature of PotOW is the foregrounding of sympathy, encouraging people to tell their own stories – this is heralded by the first major speaker, a dramatic man who plays for the camera and expresses a desire to be the subject of a funny film.) Lositzna also – The Settlement – but again the theatricality; DH is not a passive observer here. (interviews are interleaved by appearance behind a microphone in front of many other subjects, each asked what the most important thing in life is.) Was also reminded of Amanda Rose’s Approaching The Elephant.

Modernist editing and cinematography (effective range from topographic closeups to philosophical long shots; especially liked the man complaining about his immobility, camera rotating until he walks past as if up a vertical slope). Hauntological tinge to a lot of the presentation; the honouring of older photographs; the one man’s wonder at astronautics (here the contrast between futurism and those left behind is most strikingly emotive). But a lot of the material, though always beautifully shot, gives the impression of not needing much artifice to appear breathtaking – the clockwork town; the shepherd marching down a hill in the fog with his pipes; the same shepherd soaking himself with drink in his house; the no-legged man shuffling around after his livestock and manoeuvring into a position from which he can chop logs; a stalking view over a lavish graveyard; an old maid shot first hopping over a fence then striding away (“they cannot fence me in”); another amputee, a widower left only with a cat and his cigarettes; the symbolic closing shot. Likewise, what these people have to say is often moving to an extent and in a manner that is impossible to anticipate: “I love people. Where are they?”; “I am always here”; plenty telling us that if they didn’t have work they would have nothing to live for, but also telling us that they have no fear for the next life. (the relationship between despair and optimism here is revelatory)

Haunting absence of youth. Interesting gender dynamics too: lots of dependency from the men, who often tell tales of inferiority (as in the first one who was consigned to a barn or a shed or something while his wife held the house). Summed up in the scene of an old man attempting to sell broken eggs to unflappable female customers; he ends up sitting alone in the corner. Also helps dramatise the romanticism of isolation – one guy confesses he doesn’t know how to talk to women, and relates his confusion when a group reacted to his approach with “oh no.” Much more poignant than it sounds here.

Incredibly striking. (The only thing, for me, that gave it any imperfection was the noticeable disconnection between most of the early interviewees. Clear thematic continuity and also sense of continuation from photo-montage inspiration, but still a bit too episodic)

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