How the Soviet tanks crushed the Czechoslovak new wave

As Czechs and Slovaks assess the fifty years that went by since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the cultural losses brought on by repression are felt bitterly.

Sofija Kordic
Sofija Kordic NewsMavens, Czechia
How the Soviet tanks crushed the Czechoslovak new wave - NewsMavens
Soviet tanks in Prague. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Starting from the second half of the fifties, Czechoslovak cinematography became freer than most in the region, and drew from Italian neo-realism. But the sixties were the true beginning of the era that defined the iconic Czechoslovak cinema.

FAMU (The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) students borrowed from the French new wave, but created a distinct style that reflected Czechoslovak culture. The trademarks of this Czechoslovak new wave were long dialogues, dark and absurd humor and amateur actors.

Then came the Soviet invasion, along with years of brutal repression. The biggest names of the genre fled the country. Those who remained had to make so-called "safe films", meaning films that would not draw the ire of the Soviets. And thus was the Czechoslovak new wave lost -- a cautionary tale about the dangers of political censorship to the cultural treasures of a nation.

Details from the story:

  • The film “The Joke”, drawn from Kundera’s first anti-Communist novel, was shot in the midst of Soviet occupation. Several other politically engaged films were in production.
  • “The Shop on Main street”, directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos won Oscar as the best foreign film in 1966.
  • Movies of the sixties directed by Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel (his first feature film “Closely Watched Trains”, won the Acadamy Award for best foreign language film in 1967), Věra Chytilová, Pavel Juráček are among the most critically acclaimed worldwide.
  • In 1967 Frantisek Vláčil made “Marketa Lazarová,” a film which is often deemed the crowning jewel of the genre.
  • In the 1970s, films criticizing society and regime were no longer allowed.
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