Director: Milos Forman
Screenplay: Milos Forman, Jaroslav Papousek
Starring: Ladislav Jakim, Pavla Martinkova, Jan Vostrcil
Running Time: 85 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Milos Forman, who sadly died earlier this year, is best known for his Oscar winning American films One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, but he made a few important and acclaimed films in his native Czechoslovakia before heading across the pond. He was one of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave movement, which saw young filmmakers rebel against the Communist regime running the country. Forman’s debut fiction feature Black Peter (a.k.a. Černý Petr) wasn’t the first film in this movement, but it was one of the early successes and brought the director to people’s attention. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my own steady trip through the films of the New Wave over the last couple of years (which began with Forman’s Firemen’s Ball – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/10/the-firemens-ball/) so it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree to review Second Run’s new release of Black Peter on Blu-Ray.
Black Peter doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of. It simply follows the comings and goings of the 17 year old Peter (Ladislav Jakim) over the course of a few days. He’s just started a new job at a local supermarket where his primary role is to look out for shoplifters. He’s not particularly good at it, much to the frustration of his boss as well as his constantly disappointed father (the New Wave favourite Jan Vostrcil). Meanwhile, Peter has his eye on Asa (Pavla Martinkova) but is just as bad with the opposite sex as he is at his job. Providing a further hinderance to his relationship with Asa are a couple of ‘country bumpkins’ as Peter puts it, Cenda (Vladimír Pucholt) and Zdenek (Zdenek Kulhanek). Cenda in particular likes to assert his supposed authority over Peter (he’s slightly older) but tends to make a fool out of himself in the process.
I’ve got a 100% record with the Czechoslovakian films I’ve seen so far. OK, I’ve not seen many, but each one I’ve reviewed here (http://blueprintreview.co.uk/?s=Czechoslovakia) I’ve rated at least 4 stars, largely 4.5. Black Peter continues this trend as I adored it. Like with a number of the New Wave titles I’ve seen, what impressed me most was how good it is at observing life and all its eccentricities. In an interview with Forman included here, he describes how the Communist films of the time attempted to show how life ‘should’ be, whereas he and his contemporaries wanted to show how it actually was. He does so beautifully in this examination of aimless post-war youth and the difference between them and their parents’ generations.
Examination doesn’t seem the right word to use though, as the film is filled with life and humour. Indeed I found the film very funny and was laughing out loud throughout, even though I was sat watching by myself at home. The dance scene which comes in the middle was particularly hilarious, with a drunken Cenda berating Peter for his feeble greeting and some wonderfully clumsy attempts at picking up girls and impressing them with dance moves.
Helping maintain the naturalism is a cast of largely non-actors or at least non-professionals. Only Pucholt and a very minor side character were previously professional actors. Forman knows how best to use the amateurs and has them largely improvise their dialogue around loose scripts to create characters that feel very real and imbue the film with life.
The camerawork is kind of loose and raw too, like the performances and rambling nature of the ‘narrative’. Under the control of cinematographer Jan Nemecek though, it still looks great within this style. Shot in attractive black and white, it’s often kept just beside objects or extras to add depth and the illusion that we’re watching from a slight distance. It gives the audience the feel that they’re actually there, observing proceedings.
So, it’s another funny and acutely observed slice of life from the Czech New Wave. With its loose structure and slacker youth focus, it felt like a precursor to the films of Richard Linklater (if less overtly philosophical) and is equally as good as much of his best work. with no plot to speak of, it meanders a little, but it’s so full of life and humour it’s a genuine pleasure to watch and proved a superb calling card for a director destined for greatness.
Black Peter is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK (a DVD version has been out for a while too), released by Second Run. The picture and audio quality are superb.
A few special features are included too:
– Life As It Is: Milos Forman on his Czech films: Part one of an archival film-by-film interview, newly edited for this release with never-before-seen footage.
- New filmed interview with actress Pavla Martínková.
- All-new audio commentary by film historian Michael Brooke
– Booklet featuring new writing on the film by an author, academic and programmer Jonathan Owen
- New and improved English subtitle translation.
– Region free
- Original soundtrack in 2.0 Dual Mono 24-bit LPCM audio
The Forman interview is fantastic as he goes into frank and fair detail about his early career. The commentary is excellent too, incredibly well researched and crammed with interesting tidbits. The Martínková isn’t quite as necessary viewing, but it’s fairly decent. The booklet is as illuminating as ever too.