Saturday, August 27, 2005

Pearls of the Deep (Various, 1965)

And the bride and shoe lived happily ever after ...

Drawing inspiration from the stories of Bohumil Hrabal (whose novel would also later serve as the basis for Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains), Pearls of the Deep is primarily notable for bringing together five young directors that would go on to make critical contributions to one of the cinema’s most exciting artistic periods – the Czech New Wave. Coinciding roughly with the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Czech New Wave produced films bursting with creativity, audacity, sexuality and subversive political messages. Milos Forman, the most famous figure of the Czech New Wave, would go on to direct films such as Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that satisfied not only critics and scholars, but average filmgoers as well. Though significantly less familiar to most, the filmmakers featured in Pearls of the Deep have also made valuable and inspiring filmic contributions, such as Vera Chytilova’s anarchic comedy, Daisies, Jaromil Jires’ bizarre menstruation/vampire horror/fantasy, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, as well as the aforementioned Closely Watched Trains.

There is a certain amount of joy in seeing this talented group working together early in their careers, proving their worth and their ability to handle more ambitious projects. Unfortunately, little in Pearls of the Deep rises to the level of greatness and, in fact, much of it is rather dull. If there is a theme that runs through all five films, it is the unmasking of truth that lies beneath romantic facades. Racing fans tell exciting stories of motorcycling legends, blissfully ignoring the brutal dangers inherent to the sport. Elderly men in a hospital nostalgically look back on their lives and attempt to out do each other in revealing their accomplishments, but how much is fact and how much is bluster? A young man has a steamy romantic liaison with an attractive Gypsy girl, seeing her not an individual, but instead falling for an exotic fantasy. On paper, this could be a captivating theme, particularly for a country that would soon face a crisis of national identity. Too often though, Pearls of the Deep falls into the most dreary, univolving sort of ‘realism’, employing far too much dialogue and not enough forward momentum or thematic exploration.

The directors have collectively made a decision to cast non-professional actors. Presumably this decision was made in an effort to produce an air of authenticity, but unfortunately it only serves to remind us why actors get paid the big bucks. The best of them are able to keep us engaged by exploring the varied dynamics of human emotion, while skillfully pointing up moments that support the thematic basis of the whole. Too often, the actors in Pearls of the Deep simply bounce dialogue back to their partner as if it were enough simply to get all the words in the right order. This might be less of an issue if Hrabal’s stories were more compelling or the directors’ decisions were more adventuresome. Unfortunately, there are only sporadic moments of inspiration that hint at creativity reigned in, waiting to be unleashed. Chief among these is the final dreamy sequence of Chytilova’s film, featuring a drunken bride, slow motion effects and sound distortion that call to mind a crude, aggressive update of Cocteau.

Ultimately, Pearls of the Deep is certainly not awful, but it is not terribly memorable either. Mostly, it is noteworthy as a historical convergence of talent that will likely appeal to a very limited audience. See it if you’re curious, but make sure to place it low on your Czech New Wave priority list.



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