B&W/Color, 1965, 107 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Jiří Menzel, an Němec, Evald Schorm,Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jireš
Starring Pavla Marsálková, Ferdinand Kruta, Milos Ctrnacty, Jan Vasák, Josefa Pechlatová, Václav Zák
Second Run (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Criterion, Facets (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Essentially a sampler of the major players in the Czechoslovak New Wave, Pearls of the Deep is a wild anthology film containing five stories by Bohumil Hrabal from the same number of directors. You could almost watch this today as a calling card for each of the filmmakers, who would go on to varying degrees of acclaim with other projects. All alumni from the Czech national film school, FAMU, the directors each have their own take on the author's material -- and it's clear from the first segment, "Mr. Baltazar's Death" by Jiří Menzel (who made Closely Watched Trains the same year), that this won't be your usual movie omnibus. Shot loosely during a real, sprawling motorcycle race, it follows several attendees including a middle-aged couple and a father-in-law who all have their own (sometimes really grim) reasons for being there.
Jan Němec (who delivered The Party and the Guests just after this in '66) chimes in next with "The Imposters," in which a pair of nursing home residents compare notes about their illustrious pasts as a crooner and reporter -- but there's a bit of a twist. "The House of Joy" by Evald Schorm (Return of the Prodigal Son) concerns a quirky artist and some buttoned-up insurance salesmen who pay him a call and get more than they bargained for. This would play really well with early Roman Polanski; it's filled with free association and bizarre, surrealistic touches, including a hilarious bit involving the main character's handiwork on a public highway.
One of the movement's few female filmmakers, Vera Chytilová, gets her turn with "The Restaurant, the World," a forerunner of her anarchic classic Daisies in which a wedding celebration at a bar becomes the centerpiece of a string of increasingly bizarre incidents involving creepy masks, a storm, and a possible killer on the loose. It never comes close to making any sort of sense, but it's visually arresting and tough to shake off. Finally, Jaromil Jireš (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) directs "Romance," about a plumber and a wandering teen girl who meet up at a movie theater and act out a miniature version of the power struggle going on in their own country.
This film was first released in a very lackluster DVD from Facets in 2006, but Criterion issued a far better DVD in 2012 as part of its Pearls of the Czech New Wave set with individual features by all of the same directors. That disc was bare bones but welcome at the time, looking solid with optional English subtitles. It took a long time for this one to hit Blu-ray, but that finally came to pass courtesy of Second Run in the U.K. with the best presentation yet from a new 4K restoration created by the Czech National Film Archive. The LPCM Czech 1.0 mono track is in excellent shape with improved optional English subtitles, and the film itself looks very fresh with both the monochromatic and color footage (the third story) equally immaculate. Also included are two shorts based on Hrabal stories that were intended to be included in the film but nixed for running time reasons: Ivan Passer’s A Boring Afternoon (14m10s), previously on Second Run's 2018 Blu-ray of Intimate Lighting and seen here in the same excellent restoration, and Juraj Herz’s The Junk Shop (31m38s), also found on the U.K. and U.S. Blu-rays of The Cremator. This marks the first time all seven stories have been collected together in the same place in an English-friendly presentation, so program your viewing accordingly to see how it might have played out. Also included are a restoration trailer and the 1967 short About Cats, Beatniks and All Sorts of Other Things(12m11s), basically spending an afternoon with Bohumil ruminating about life and art. Also included is a booklet featuring a new, extensive essay by Peter Hames breaking down each story (plus the two excised shorts) including lots of useful information about their cultural references, the source stories, and the approaches of the filmmakers.
Reviewed on November 3, 2023