Thursday, October 20, 2011

Intimate Lighting

Intimate Lighting is a 1965 Czech film, directed by Ivan Passer, that is considered one of the highlights of the Czech New Wave.

Here is Roger Greenspun's 1969 review of the film from The New York Times:

IVAN PASSER made "Intimate Lighting" in 1965. It played at the 1966 New York Film Festival. I've seen it several times now, most recently in connection with its opening at the Fifth Avenue Cinema, and it loses none of its charm, to age or to repeated viewing. It is one of those very special movies that does not so much reveal new secrets each time you see it as confirm a justness and good humor that was never hidden.

Passer's anecdote (it doesn't amount to a story) concerns a cellist from Prague who, with his young mistress, visits a country town where he is to give a concert with the local orchestra. He spends a day and a night with an old school friend, a violinist who heads the town's music school and who has settled down with his mother and father, a plump wife, three kids, a car, and a garage full of chickens.

Nothing very significant happens. There is a family dinner, some amateur chamber music, and country funeral and a wake, a drunken late-night session involving the two friends and a family breakfast the next morning—with which the movie ends.

"Intimate Lighting" is constructed out of a series of minor embarrassments and low-keyed confrontations. Everything in the film's situation suggests incongruity and ironic distancing. But Passer has been at pains to keep all lines of communication open and never cruelly to play lifestyles off against one another. His warmth is neither sentimental nor condescending. And in all likelihood he has made a funnier movie from an awareness of imperfect reconciliations than he could have from an exploitation of disparities.

Understatement both in performance and technique, which has become a characteristic almost to cliché in many Czech movies, works perfectly in "Intimate Lighting." Passer, who has been known mostly as a scenarist to Milos Forman, is a perceptive director, and he has a fine cast to work with.

Because everybody except Vera Kresadlov (the mistress) has essentially a character part to play, it is difficult to single out anyone for praise. But I especially enjoyed Vlastimila Vlkova as the athletic grandmother, and Karel Uhlik as the town pharmacist whose violin technique is a struggle between musicianship and arthritis.

"I love this music. I love it passionately," says the pharmacist, who then takes up his violin and virtually saws apart a movement of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." But he does love it, and the mess he makes of Mozart is the kind of testimony to love with which "Intimate Lighting" is filled. All the country people protest too much—their love of art, of family, of the lives they have to lead—but their protestations add up to a truth to which men agree and which it would be folly to disapprove.

For the final breakfast the grandmother has made an eggnog so think and rich it won't pour out of a glass. She tells the family and guests that "with a little patience" they will have a treat. And so in the last scene they all stand, glasses raised, mouths open, utterly ridiculous but sublimely patient.