Jiri Menzel, Oscar-Winning Czech Director, Dies at 82

You may assume the Czech director Jiri Menzel, having spent a lot of his life behind the Iron Curtain, needed nothing greater than to be freed from it. But Mr. Menzel knew the worth of getting limits to check.

“There were great films made under censorship, even in the United States, for instance when they were not allowed to show kissing,” he advised The East European Film Bulletin in 2013. “Freedom has this unlucky side effect that by making everything possible, you lack purpose and a direction. Creation always needs limits.”

Mr. Menzel received worldwide acclaim and an Oscar for his first function, “Closely Watched Trains,” in 1966, a time when he and different administrators — together with Milos Forman, Vera Chytilova and Ivan Presser — examined authoritarian limits beneath Communism in Czechoslovakia.

The motion, which grew to become generally known as the Czechoslovak New Wave, was muzzled when Soviet troops marched into the nation in 1968, a crackdown that started a interval of artistic limbo for Mr. Menzel. But he re-emerged, directing films recognized for irony and humor. He additionally had substantial careers as an actor and a stage director.

“I always try to make a movie that I won’t have to be ashamed of in front of my father, but also one that my mother would understand,” he told Reuters in 1987.

His first interest was theater, he said, but he also became interested in film while at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts, where he studied from 1958 to 1962 under the director Otakar Vavra. Ms. Chytilova, a classmate, provided his first film acting credit, casting him in a short, “Strop” (1962).

He directed several shorts of his own before “Closely Watched Trains,” which was based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal. The film seems to be a gently humorous coming-of-age story until, in its fast-paced final minutes, it ends explosively, as the young hero blows up one of the German trains.

“What’s most clever about the movie,” Richard Schickel wrote in reassessing it for the Criterion Collection in 2001, “is the canny way Menzel and Hrabal deceive us, lead us into believing, right up to the end, that their aim is nothing more than a sort of chucklesome and offhand geniality.”

When the 1968 invasion put an end to what is often called the Prague Spring, many of Mr. Menzel’s contemporaries in filmmaking left the country. Mr. Menzel stayed, and felt the grip of authoritarianism — “Larks on a String,” a film about the re-education of several bourgeois characters under Communism that he completed in 1969, was deemed unacceptable and not released until 1990.

Mr. Menzel, though, took some theater-directing assignments, and eventually found enough favor in the eyes of the authorities that he was allowed to return to filmmaking.

“Censorship is like weather,” he said. “Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s warm. You just have to know how to dress.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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