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Czech Film Director Jiri Menzel

Posted May. 10, 2007 08:18,   


“Did you ask when I am the happiest as a film director? Well, I guess it is when I’m not directing films,” Jiri Menzel said.

The 69-year-old director from the Czech Republic seemed to me more of a mischievous child than a maestro filmmaker. Menzel abruptly stuck out his tongue while taking pictures with his fans and praised the kindness and beauty of Korean women, even in the presence of his wife, who is in her 20s.

Menzel, who came to Korea as a jury member for the 8th Jeonju International Film Festival, is a legendary figure in the Czech film industry. He introduced Czech cinema to the world by winning the Academy Award for the best foreign-language film with ``Closely Watched Trains”, at the age of 28. However, “Larks on a String,” made in celebration of the Prague Spring was immediately banned and trampled by the Soviet Union’s tanks upon its release. Despite this unfortunate release, Menzel won the Golden Bear – the highest award in film – at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival for “Larks on a String,” along with director Costa Gavras’ “Music Box.” In addition, he won the critics prize last year at the Berlin festival for “I Served the King of England,” a film based on a novel by internationally renowned Czech writer Bohumil Hraval; ``Closely Watched Trains” and Larks on a String” are also based on novels by Bohumil.

A selection of Menzel’s films which have not been introduced in Korea will be screened from Friday at the Cinecube Theater, Gwanghwamun. The movies of the Czech film director, who is also often referred to as the master of tragic comedies, unravel extremely sensitive political issues immersed in laughter and a touch of humanism. The collaborated works of Menzel and Bohumil, which remind us of the works of cinematographer Lee Chung-joon and director Im Kwon-taek, brilliantly capture the national characteristics of the Czech Republic in a hilarious manner, regardless of the graveness of historical context.

“Foolishness is more problematic than ruthlessness. You should not criticize foolishness with heated arguments. That will only raise the status of foolishness to become equal to that of us. You should deal foolishness in jokes. In that way, you can stay one level higher,” Menzel said.

“Larks on a String” criticizes the self-contradictory socialist system from the perspective of the bourgeoisie drafted into forced labor by the paradox of capitalism under the socialist regime. With regard to the Korean War, they refuse to chant the slogan, “Drown yourselves in the sea of Busan, you American imperialists!” and ask, “Do you have any clue what the truth is?” Characters include a carpenter calling for justice, a professor emphasizing humanism and a protagonist outspokenly criticizing the government. They disappear one after another and meet each other at the “Aoji coal mine” of North Korea at the end of the movie.

Although Menzel lived under the socialist regime, he still produced the anti-socialism movie, whose release in North Korea would be unimaginable. Although Menzel had to stop film making for 20 years because of the movie, he stayed in Czechoslovakia, refusing to seek asylum.

“I thought not everyone can escape. My movies’ weapon in criticizing ideologies was the actual life we had lived. If I gave it up to flee the country, what would I have left?”

“Closely Watched Trains” revolves around a person who becomes suicidal under the woes of premature ejaculation. He takes a journey to find an old woman who can offer him treatment. Menzel said, it would be his great honor if “Closely Watched Trains” becomes a remedy for the “premature ejaculation” that young movie goers who judge movies by their first week box office results are experiencing.