Slnko v sieti vs. Slávnosť v botanickej záhrade

Katedra audiovizuálnych štúdií zabezpečuje pre zahraničných študentov z programu Erasmus predmet History of Slovak Cinema, a tak ako ostatné, aj tento pokračuje dištančnou formou. Prednášky “navštevujú” študenti z VŠVU a tiež študenti z filmovej a divadelnej fakulty VŠMU. Jedným zo zadaní bolo porovnanie filmov Slnko v sieti (Štefan Uher, 1962) a Slávnosť v botanickej záhrady (Elo Havetta, 1969). Dune Favero z Francúzska sa vo svojej komparatívnej eseji zamerala na dva druhy realizmov:

Uher and Havetta

Uher realized The Sun in a Net in 1962 and Havetta realized Celebration in the Botanical Garden in 1969. After more than a decade of socialist realist filmmaking, Uher’s The Sun in a Net became a milestone in both Slovak and Czech filmmaking. It inspired a whole generation of film students at the Film Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague, who soon followed with a series of films that attained a degree of international recognition as the “Czech New Wave”. The Sun in a Net is a “cinema vérité“.  The Slovak New wave is about : no rational structure, surrealism, dadaism, lyricism, a spontaneity and an intuition and the social reality is only like a fog. Celebration in the Botanical Garden is a grotesque realism. How these film are constructed by two different generation of filmmakers in the 60’s in Slovakia ? First we will see, two different realisms in the film and after the attacks to the society and the film structure in Slovakia by the filmmakers.

First, Uher and Havetta realized two realists film but in a different way who characterized their film. The Sun in a Net brought to the screen a number of hitherto unacceptable social and political themes: distant parents, a philandering husband, teenagers changing partners, an attempt at suicide, a poorly run collectivize farm, the expectation that a child attend summer “voluntary work camps” in order to make up for his parents belonging to the intelligentsia. Moreover, none of these issues was resolved in a positive manner. The ending was rather somber, if not depressing, with the barest hint of optimism found only in the last sentence spoken in the film and possibly on the film’s symbolic level, which was handled rather unevenly. But the core story line, the ups and downs in the relationship of two teenagers, the realism, and the novelty of its urban setting, as well as the hints at some social and political taboos, were not lost on audiences and cannot have been lost on the censors. The Sun in a Net not only pushed the envelope, but it also established expanded opportunities for other artists and showed Slovaks and Czechs at large what the authorities could now be pushed to permit. For young filmmakers, it was more important to be sensitive to the doubts, insecurity, and quests of their adolescent heroes; their goal was not instruction, but recognition. They were more interested in elaborating on feelings rather than on events, so they wrapped a simple story about young love in multiple layers of commentary, observations, and pictures. Uher employs dialect or realistic speech in novel and sometimes experimental ways; he strives for a degree of verisimilitude despite varying degrees of stylization or artifice and differences in locale. The film is almost a documentary by his realism. The film even went as far as using tapes of unscripted conversations. The non-linear narrative structure contrasts with the linear narrative structure dominant in socialist realism. There are subjective sequences flying in the face of the socialist realist prerogative that film reveal objective truth (in practice, government-mandated propaganda), the unscripted sequences also tread on taboo territory because they have no explicit, plot-driving function: they are dashes of local color, ambiguous in meaning and anathema to socialist-realism. Concerning Celebration in the Botanical Garden, Havetta completely changed the idea that a film should be stylistically homogenous and at the same time kept in mind that the viewer was not looking at reality, but was observing an image, a work of art: that the viewer was a participant in a show, a play, that he was not a voyeur peering into people’s lives. The film is the essence of joy. The characters may experience greater or lesser problems, but these problems quickly run their course and come to a happy end. Havetta based his work not just on a whirlwind of joy and marvels, but also on an ever-present conviction that everything is but a play or a film, set apart from the world of reality. For him, film became a circus tent from which the viewer has to return to the world after a performance, but in which, for one-and-a-half hours he can experience a marvelous world of conjuring tricks, acrobatics, and beauty. The film was still playful and disjointed, one of the most disjointed films in the history of Slovak cinema. But it was also a complex construction in which all the elements came together and worked as a whole. Rather than follow a narrative line, he emphasized visual imagination and worked with associative sequencing of scenes, which became a way of expressing joy and freedom. The concepts essential to understanding this film are playfulness, mockery, and grotesque realism, a concept that is well known in connection with the legendary theater Divadlo na korze today. Havetta’s grotesque realism depends directly on his use of carnival (the carnival atmosphere has had an especially strong influence on him). However, along with the techniques indicative of carnivals, such as mixing elements of various cultures or ridiculing something serious, this film acknowledges another type of festivity as well: an almost impressionistic visuality, the laziness of a summer idyll.

Then, these films have different messages. The Sun in a Net explores the romantic attachments of student and amateur photographer Fajolo to his hometown love Bela and to Jana, a lover whom he meets during a summer job on a collective farm. This lovers’ triangle provides the film with several oppositions: town and country, intelligentsia and worker, collective and personal truth, reality and representation: all ultimately pointing towards the distinction between truth and lie. However, this film offers no clear resolution of the issues at stake, instead it insists that viewers piece it together for themselves. It is consistently ranked among the greatest films in the history of Czechoslovak cinema, in spite of (and perhaps to some degree, because of) government attacks against it. Critical acclaim, however, does not always correlate with audience reception. Not infrequently, films praised by critics for being innovative are lost on audiences that are more likely to criticize them as being pretentious or incoherent. In additional, neither critical nor popular acclaim at the time of a film’s release is an accurate indicator of whether the film will join the ranks of those canonized by critics or embraced by audiences. The Sun in a Net was favorably received by both critics and popular audiences, and both continue to hold it in high esteem four decades later. Back in 1963, such bold defiance of the traditions of socialist realist filmmaking was likely to capture the attention of critics and audiences because of its novelty alone. Symbolic details are used throughout the film to convey the polarity between life under communism and the possibility of life without communism. While these details went unnoticed by many viewers and possibly not even intended as such by the filmmakers, they did not escape the attention of the authorities. Karol Bacílek, the head of the Communist Party in Slovakia at the time, attacked the film, saying it contained coded messages that conspirators were easily able to decipher. Bacílek claimed, for example, that the solar eclipse was supposed to indicate the twilight of communism, and that the pontoon on the dried-up riverbed was a comment on the state of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Communist officials believed that the blind mother symbolized the blindness of their Party, which did not see the realities of life under communism. Despite these accusations, however, the film was released because a political thaw had begun in Slovakia. Concerning the Celebration in the Botanical Garden, there are also some oppositions and a different way to tell a story. Perhaps paradoxically, it took grotesque realism much more seriously and used it, to the extent that it was feasible under communism, as a means of indirect criticism of the political situation and its social consequences. But, at the same time, the film never steers far from a focus on several basic binary oppositions: male versus female, a desire to live with a steady partner versus a desire for uninhibited freedom—“to fly away.” These oppositions, however, are highly relative and are subjected to irony. For this reason, it is no surprise that, in addition to the bipolarity of men’s and women’s perceptions (of fate, of a way of life, etc.) and carnival-like situations, the film includes situations that are mostly peaceful, like a romantic village idyll. Havetta’s “generation” is known for the frequently ironic overuse of innovations, which emphasize the self-reflection of films and filmmakers. Some innovations build on the experiments of Jean-Luc Godard and other French directors. In this film the intertitles often play with increasing or decreasing the separation between the signified (the image) and the signifier (the intertitles themselves). The filmmakers use a wealth of self-reflective techniques that allow the viewer to feel the freedom of that period. They also pick up on concepts that are often associated not just with this “generation” of Slovak filmmakers, but also with people in the theatre, artists, writers, and even graphic designers (Havetta not only had connections in all of these fields, but had tried them all before choosing directing as a career).

To conclude, The Sun in a Net was the first film in Czechoslovakia to break through the barriers imposed by socialist realism and, as a result, it was a triumph with critics and viewers alike. The fact that they got past the censors showed that the most repressive years of communist rule in Slovak and Czech society and art were coming to an end. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Uher’s film was voted by critics as one of the top ten best films produced in the history of filmmaking in the former Czechoslovakia. The Celebration in the Botanical Garden is one of only two films that Havetta filmed at Koliba. With the onset of “Normalization” (the political and cultural repression after the Soviet invasion of 1968), it became harder and harder for him to produce his scripts even though he had several ready.

Dune Favero