B&W, 1966, 79 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Karel Kachyňa
Iva Janžurová, Jaromír Hanzlík, Luděk Munzar
Second Run (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Ostensibly a war film, this controversial and eventually banned three-character drama came along at the height of the Czechoslovak New Wave in the mid-'60s around the same time as the classic The Party and the Guests. Using striking scope black-and-white photography, Kocár do Vídne (Coach to Vienna, or Carriage to Vienna) spends almost its entire running time with just a trio of actors on screen but delivers a striking and sometimes eerie viewing experience that culminates in a surprisingly harrowing conclusion.
In the middle of the woods, young widow Krista (Morgiana's Janžurová) is driving her straw-filled carriage through the woods when she's forced by Hans (Hanzlík), an Austrian Nazi soldier, to transport him and his wounded fellow officer, Günther (Munzar), all the way to border of Vienna. However, as the opening crawl informs us, her husband has just been hanging for stealing some bags of cement, and now Krista's seizing the opportunity to mete out revenge when the time is right. As tensions and allegiances shift, it becomes clear that national identity ultimately means less than many think when confronted with the human capacity for violence or forgiveness.
Stuck in the forest for its entire running time with only some ambiguous sounds from the outside world filtering in now and then, Coach to Vienna often feels like more of a spare allegory with its minimal dialogue (largely handled by Hanzlik, a dead ringer here for Luke Treadway, playing off of Janžurová's inscrutable demeanor) doing less of the heavy lifting here than the beautiful, mobile camerawork. The occasional bursts of organ music add to the displaced feeling, and it's a very strong calling card for director and co-writer Karel Kachyna (most notable for his incendiary The Ear in 1970) and writer Jan Procházka, who sadly passed away in '71. The poetic approach also lulls you into a dreamy state here that ultimately tosses a glass of ice water in your face in the closing minutes, a development that had local authorities suppressing the film for its refusal to play by the standard black-and-white definitions of heroes and villains. It still packs quite a punch, too.
Barely exported at the time and largely overlooked compared to the more widely seen masterpieces around the same time, Coach to Vienna is quite the discovery with its worldwide Blu-ray debut from Second Run. The presentation looks gorgeous courtesy of a new 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive, with excellent contrast and detail. There's always something magical about watching monochrome scope films in pristine presentations, and this one's no exception. The Czech LPCM mono track is also in excellent shape, with optional and improved English subtitles provided. A new audio commentary by the Projection Booth podcast team features Mike White, Samm Deighan, and Kat Ellinger in a low-key but perceptive analysis of the film tying it to other Czech cinema treatments of World War II, aesthetic similarities to other films like Marketa Lazarová, the fairy tale feel of some elements, Ellinger's aversion to "war drama," and the moral complexities tackled in the story. Also included are a newly created trailer, an image gallery of rare Hungarian lobby cards (28s), and 1949's It's Not Always Cloudy (Není stále zamračeno) (68m15s), Kachyňa’s rediscovered "semi-documentary graduation film, co-directed by Vojtěch Jasný." Using narration and documentary techniques, it's a fascinating snapshot of life in postwar Moldova where rebuilding is depicting at first from the POV of a young financial administrator forging a new life for himself away from his wife and daughter. From there we get to meet other residents ranging from townsfolk to farmers with modern technology promising new waves to build and grow. The disc also comes with a 20-page insert booklet with a thorough, informative essay by Jonathan Owen exploring the film's touchy subject matter, the bios of the cast and director, and the state of local filmmaking at the time.
Reviewed on May 6, 2022