Color, 1963, 104 mins. 42 sec.
Directed by Vojtech Jasný
Starring Jan Werich, Emília Vásáryová, Vlastimil Brodský, Jirí Sovák
Second Run (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), IVC (DVD) (Japan R1 NTSC) / WS (2.55:1) (16:9)

One of the most inventive The Cassandra Catfilms of the Czechoslovak New Wave, The Cassandra Cat (Až prijde kocour, The Cassandra Cator When the Cat Comes) was a highly successful production in its day with significant awards picked up at various festivals including Cannes. Unfortunately like many of its peers, the film fell afoul of the national government near the end of the '60s and was heavily suppressed, with only sporadic availability ever since limited mainly to questionable home video releases and the occasional repertory screening. In 2023, U.K. label Second Run gave the film its worldwide Blu-ray debut and delivered a major world cinema restoration for a film whose striking visual and aural approach has been difficult to appreciate in the past. A sort of allegorical fairy tale with a subversive streak, it's one of the very best films by director Vojtech Jasný who became far more aggressive in his political tweaking with 1968's All My Good Countrymen. (He also went on to co-write The Peanut Butter Solution, but that's another story altogether.)

In a provincial town, various little squabbles and thwarted romances exist among the locals with a particular competitive streak existing between two teachers, free thinker Robert (Brodský) and by-the-book mayor and master instructor Karel (Sovák). One day the students are told a story by local historian Oliva and overseer (Werich) about his strangest youth experience which then seems destined to repeat itself when a traveling circus comes to town including performer Diana (Vásáryová), a dead ringer for Olva's lost love, and his own lookalike magician. The highlight of the supernatural performance comes during a magical demonstration of how colors represent people's hidden natures ("Purple is for hypocrites, snitches, careerists and liars," for example, with red is true love). The climax comes The Cassandra Catwhen Diana presents a The Cassandra Catvery special cat wearing sunglasses which, when removed, turn the audience members into bright colors reflecting who they truly are. Several of the adults become outraged and call for the cat's destruction, while the youngsters know better and decide to take matters into their own hands.

A bouquet of visual tricks from start to finish, The Cassandra Cat sets the tone early on with Werich popping out of the town clock to address the viewer and keeps up its whimsical twists including those astonishing "color people" sequences. At least on first viewing, it's a little tricky to grasp what the film is going for until the circus potion hits but the persistence is more than justified by the gorgeous payoff you receive.

Shot very wide with what appear to be CinemaScope lenses (including a few close-ups with that reveal a bit of that baked-in squeezing), The Cassandra Cat is an ambitious production that's been cropped to varying degrees even in some theatrical screenings. Fortunately the full width is restored on the Blu-ray thanks to the meticulous 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive. The involvement along the way from the dreaded L'Immagine Ritrovata might set off some alarm bells, but the presentation here looks The Cassandra Catgreat with the earthy color scheme in the early going giving way to eye-popping colors bouncing all over the screen once the The Cassandra Catmystical aspects kick in. Equally significant is the Czech DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (with optional English subtitles) reflecting the original four-track multichannel mix, which has been heard virtually nowhere if you didn't catch this in its initial screenings. A far cry from the flat mono mix we've had for decades, the sound mix is a real joy with wild separation effects throughout including spacious music, swirling sounds, and widely spread crowd noises. A second track features a 2022 podcast episode of The Projection Booth featuring Mike White, Spencer Parsons and Chris Stachiw, who have a lot of fun diving into this one with discussions of dark fairy tales, the effective use of close-ups, the political undercurrents, and comparisons with the director's other work. Also included are a newly created trailer and a short film also created in 1963, Badly Painted Hen (Špatně namalovaná slepice) (13m38s), a great animated short by this film's co-writer, Jiří Brdečka. This one also has a classroom motif, but from a very different and amusing perspective (and with a verbal gibberish approach that will amuse fans of Peanuts). The package also comes with a booklet featuring an essay by Cerise Howard covering Jasný's background, the process of leading to his sixth film here, other very significant personnel members, an in-depth breakdown of the story structure, and its influence on other filmmakers.

Reviewed on February 21, 2023.