Director: Peter Solan
Screenplay: Peter Solan, Tibor Vichta
Starring: Jana Gýrová, Jitka Zelenohorská, Stano Danciak, Marián Labuda, Július Pántik
Running Time: 89 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
The films of the Czech new wave are much loved and discussed among cineasts, yet one must remember that its full title was the Czechoslovak new wave, as the Czech Republic was united with Slovakia at the time. Though many Slovakian directors of the era trained at FAMU, along with their Czech counterparts, and most of their key works are still considered part of the new wave, there was a separate Slovak film industry.
One Slovak director to graduate from FAMU and make some notable films during the 60s was Peter Solan. He found particular success with the acclaimed The Boxer and Death in 1962, which won a couple of awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
A number of Solan’s films were satires so he faced difficulties with the Czechoslovakian authorities over the years. Before Tonight Is Over (a.k.a. Kým sa skoncí táto noc), which is the subject of this review, was even initially rejected for production and delayed for several years due to opposition over its subject matter.
Solan was well-respected in his home country but he and his films haven’t become as well-remembered as many of the big Czech new-wave directors and titles. After ‘normalisation’ came in Czechoslovakia in 1968, Solan was one of the directors that were forced into making documentaries, due to refusing to have his fiction work approved by the authorities. Unfortunately, documentaries back then rarely got the same widespread attention as they do now, so much of his later work, though highly regarded at the time, has drifted into obscurity.
Thankfully, Second Run have turned their sights to Before Tonight Is Over and are releasing the film on Blu-ray, complete with the extra material they often lavish on their titles. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Czech new wave films I’ve watched over the years, so volunteered to see if this was a title that deserves more recognition.
The film’s plot, or rather concept, is very simple. We follow the comings and goings of a nightclub in the exclusive resort of the High Tatras over the course of a single night. The main focus is on a couple of plumbers, Kvetinka (Stano Danciak) and Milos (Marián Labuda), who are trying to win over the beautiful tourists Olga (Jana Gýrová) and Mira (Jitka Zelenohorská).
Also playing key roles are Baláz (Július Pántik), another newcomer to the club who is throwing his money around, Pavol Holub (Vladimír Durdík), a recovering alcoholic enduring a glum evening with his wife, and barmaid Betka (Valentina Thielová), who fills us and the club’s ‘outsiders’ in on who’s who and what’s what. These and another bunch of revellers enjoy a night of drinking, flirting and watching the raunchy stage show.
On the surface, Before Tonight Is Over is quite an innocuous early example of the ‘hangout’ movie, so it’s hard to see why it took such a while to get cleared by the Czechoslovakian authorities. However, back then films struggled to get clearance if they weren’t celebrating ‘the people’ or promoting other such socialist ideals. Before Tonight Is Overdoesn’t criticise its wide cross section of characters, but in celebrating their excesses it wasn’t quite the message the socialist powers-that-be wanted to give. Even setting the film in a nightclub was a contraversial move. Apparently, it’s the first Slovak film to center around such a location, in fact.
As the night goes on, characters also reveal their deepest flaws and insecurities, reflecting issues with the country at the time. Plus, many of the characters are ‘on the take’ as they say, making the most of any handouts they can get. * SPOILER * Most notably, we finally discover the man doing most of the handing out has in fact stolen the money from his team’s wages. When he’s taken away at the end, he claims that public money is always being embezzled like this and that he’s doing nothing new. * END OF SPOILER *
Before Tonight Is Over is not an altogether damning portrait of Slovakia though. The film is still, on the whole, lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, with flawed but relatable characters, riding on an atmosphere and approach that’s full of life.
This natural, vibrant style was achieved through some relatively innovative and experimental techniques for the era. For one, it was shot using direct sound, which wasn’t often done back then in Slovak cinema. Multiple cameras were used too and these were kept at a distance from the actors, to allow for more natural dialogue between them. Improvisation was encouraged too. Small moments were even ‘stolen’ from characters who didn’t think they were in shot.
On top of the wonderfully natural approach to dialogue, plot and character, the film is driven forward by the tension between characters that rises throughout the film. This never explodes into anything over-the-top that would spoil the authentic presentation, but there’s enough give and take and suspense there to keep you hooked.
Overall then, Before Tonight is Over may be simple in concept but it’s utterly (excuse the pun) intoxicating. It’s the ultimate ‘hangout’ movie in many ways but also has a subtly dark edge and has something to say behind the drunken antics. It’s certainly a neglected classic then, that deserves more attention.
Before Tonight is Over is out on 14th June on region-free Blu-Ray, released by Second Run. The picture has a natural-looking, fairly thick grain and a reasonable level of detail. One particularly dark scene is less clear and the contrast can be quite high, but it’s likely as shot. Audio is solid.
– Before Tonight is Over (Kým sa skoní táto noc, 1965) presented from an HD transfer of the new 2K restoration supervised by the Slovak Film Institute.
– A Conversation About Peter Solan and His Film Before Tonight Is Over (2020): a new filmed appreciation of the film with Martin Kauch and Rastislav Steranka.
– Two short films reflecting the locale and milieu of the film:
– Operation BL (Akcia BL, 1959)
– High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry, 1966)
– Booklet with new writing on the film by Peter Hames.
– World premiere on Blu-ray
The ‘conversation’ provides an overview of the career of Peter Solan, as well as a little analysis of the film itself. It’s an interesting, valuable piece.
The Operation BL short is a bizarre advert for shaving foam that opens with a bar scene that wouldn’t look out of place in the film but, other than that, the link is tenuous at best.
High Tatras is remarkably well restored for a short. It’s just a promotional film for the area to give you an idea of the setting of the main feature though. It’s quite well made I guess for such a film, but it’s nothing special.
The booklet, however, provides a solid background on Slovak cinema, Solan’s career and the film itself. It’s an excellent addition to the package.
It’s disappointing that there’s no commentary, as is often included in Second Run’s classic releases, and the short films are not of great value, but the interview and booklet add a decent amount of context, to help better appreciate the film. With the main feature as good as it is too, it’s an easy recommendation.