Friday, February 04, 2011

Frantisek Vlacil at FSLC: Sentiment

Franstišek Vláčil outlived the Communist regime that had so bedeviled his filmmaking career, but he did not quite make it into the Twenty-First Century. However, his presence was felt on Czech screens in 2003 thanks to documentary filmmaker Tomáš Hejtmánek, who recreated his many conversations with Vláčil in Sentiment, which screens tomorrow as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Fantastic World of Franstišek Vláčil retrospective.

Like many Czechs, Vláčil apparently enjoyed an occasional adult beverage, but rum for his drink of choice instead of Becherovka. Not that it is Vláčil whom we see reflecting on cinema and his life in general. It is actor Jirí Kodet re-enacting interviews Hejtmánek conducted with the celebrated director. Though it was hardly the manner Hejtmánek originally envisioned a collaboration with the filmmaker he so admired, Vláčil’s death necessitated the unconventional approach.

Indeed, Kodet creates a real sense of Vláčil’s personality, crusty and acerbic certainly, but not bitter. Despite his well reported troubles under the Communist regime, Sentiment largely avoids the political, aside from a few unflattering references to the “Commies.”

Periodically featuring quietly evocative nature scenes excerpted from or inspired by Vláčil’s films, Sentiment is best viewed by audiences already somewhat familiar with the Czech New Wave auteur’s work. It should be one of the later films FSLC patrons see in the series rather than the first. Though structured relatively simply as a faux-but-real talking head documentary, the intimate, sepia-washed cinematography of Jaromir Kacer and Divis Marek gives Sentiment a classy look that is quite consistent with that of Vláčil’s own films.

Modest but heartfelt, Sentiment helps flesh out Vláčil, a filmmaker who ought to be more widely appreciated outside the Czech Republic. A fitting way to cap off the FSLC’s Vláčil retrospective currently underway, it screens tomorrow (2/5) and Thursday (2/10) at the Walter Reade Theater.