Following the fall of communism in 1989, the only restrictions to Švankmajer's work were financial, and he made three feature-length films in this period. Faust is an adaptation of Goethe's famous tale of diabolical dealing, reworked to take place in contemporary Prague, with the reading of the original text and the actual events described in the story colliding.
Conspirators of Pleasure (Spiklenci slasti, 1996), practically a silent film, explores the world of secret and bizarre erotic obsessions (but, no, the film isn't in any way explicit or, paradoxically, even sexy). Czech viewers are rewarded with extra laughs since they'll recognize real-life news anchor Anna Wetlinská playing herself (with a strange fish fixation).
Little Otík (Otesánek, 2000), the most recent of Švankmajer's films, returns to adaptation of a children's book, this time a Czech fairy tale about a childless couple that adopt a tree-stump as a boy and find it turns into a crazed man-eating monster. Again, the tale is updated to modern times, and, as in Faust, the original story is read by one of the main characters as parallel events echoing those in the book unfold around.
Also worth noting is that Švankmajer is far from being the only Czech puppet animator of note. Jirí Trnka made a name for himself illustrating children's books before moving on to animation. Although many of his early works are whimsical in nature, his technical skill shines through: "A Drop too Much," for example, conveys speed and danger (qualities not naturally associated with puppet-work). Moreover, the sentimental gloss can sometimes be deceptive: "The Emporer's Nightingale" ("Císaruv slavik," 1951), for example, clearly advocates rebelling against strict rules. Such an oppositional undertone becomes clear in his last film, "The Hand" (Ruka, 1965), an thinly-veiled allegory of an artist's plight in a totalitarian state.
Jirí Barta, like Švankmajer, has also worked with the grotesque. His masterwork is the feature-length The Pied Piper (Krysar, 1985), which mixes a variety of animation techniques and incorporates real, live action rats. His current project is an ambitious adaptation of the legend of the Golem of Prague (already successfully translated into film by Paul Wegener and Julien Duvivier, among others), but it looks like it will never be completed; animation, once state-subsidized, has suffered most of all film forms in the free-market Czech Republic.
1989 Onwards: Nostalgia and Bitterness
The fall of communism in 1989 offered the chance for directors to look at the present and the past with a new honesty - the very formula that had made the 1960s so cinematically successful. Not surprisingly, then, Czech cinema in the 1990s and 2000s has had a large degree of continuity stylistically and thematically with the Czech New Wave. Although critical comparisons between the two eras have generally found the more recent films to be weaker and more derivative, international success has returned to Czech cinema, including an Oscar win and several nominations.
Ironically, as the hardships of adapting to capitalism have hit the country's economy, Czech film has looked back to the past more with a sentimental warmth than with biting analysis. Jan Svrrák's Kolya (Kolja, 1995) has been the most successful of these, taking a gently humorous look at Communist oppression and superimposing it over a story of a womaniser who grows up through having to care for a five-year-old boy. Sverák's next feature, Dark Blue World (Tmavomodry svet, 2001) rehabilitates Czech pilots who fought on the side of the Western Allies in the Second World War and who subsequently suffered under communism.
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