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  Birds, Orphans and Fools Czech Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self
Year: 1969
Director: Juraj Jakubisko
Stars: Philippe Avron, Jirí Sýkora, Magda Vásáryová, Mila Beran, Augustín Kubán, Mikulás Ladizinský, Jana Stehnová
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A photographer called Andrej (Philippe Avron) and his assistant Yorick (Jirí Sýkora) are taking some time to frolic in the ruins of Bratislava and the surrounding countryside, finding a new freedom in their lives there and the people who periodically appear to join in. Yorick is almost drafted into the occupation of a sailor, or at least that's how it appears when he is given the uniform to wear, though when he wakes up the next morning it is a complete mess. As the men stumble across a couple of naked women to chase through the forest, they are determined to snap their pictures, but are outsmarted when the women disappear into a huge crowd of what Andrej describes as gypsies. However, there's one person there of real interest...

And she is a future Czech politician, except that's not who Magda Vásáryová was playing in this movie, but it did perhaps become the cinematic work she was most associated with. That was when it was finally offered a wider release some twenty years after it was banned after a handful of showings back in 1969, this being the fate of many a film from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, where the authorities, either from the Soviet Union or locals under their influence, would take one look at anything slightly confrontational or idiosyncratic and decide this was not for the wider public to see, thus banning great swathes of very talented artists - not simply filmmakers - from working.

Some of them managed to adapt, others escaped, but for director Juraj Jakubisko it meant exile in Czechoslovakia and doing the best he could with what he was offered. For a man with the wild imagination he had, this must have been frustrating, though to his credit he kept ploughing away on television and film, wth The Millennial Bee created almost fifteen years after this possibly his most celebrated effort, and no less dreamlike. Here, however, acknowledging the optimism of the then-recent Prague Spring and how the taste of victory had turned to ashes in the would-be revolutionaries' mouths, we are informed in voiceover from the outset that while it may look as if the characters are having fun, don't get too comfortable since there will be no happy ending.

You have to admire Jakubisko's chutzpah in crafting such an obvious allegory, even if his grasp on an actual storyline was loose enough to be practically non-existent. Here was symbolism and representations of exuberance to be quashed by the sourness of hopes turned bad as the two friends are joined by another, a Jewish girl named Marta (Vásáryová) who brings a spark to their lives as they form a love triangle very much infuenced by the French Nouvelle Vague, specifically Jules et Jim. Even that was developing a bittersweet, wistful, what could have been quality in the rest of Europe, so you can imagine the notion of dreams being crushed, be they romantic or political, was identifiably part of the spirit of the times, and in few places more than here.

Chaotic would be a good word to describe the manner in which scenes played out, but the orphans of the title were the three central characters, who behave as if they were little kids let off the leash at certain scenes, while in others they are more reflective. The screen is often filled with rubble, lending a post-apocalyptic appearance to the visuals, but then there are the birds which abound, including many, many budgies which apparently were there to represent the souls of the fallen dead, but in effect were a distraction, as was the hedgehog which didn't look to be having a great time, in truth. Marta's race becomes an issue for Yorick, but both men grow enamoured of her until an eventual resentment which will bring about the depressingly violent finale builds, and all that joie de vivre ebbs away dramatically, recognising it would never last. You could emerge from this none the wiser as it was patently an extremely personal work with the most meaning for its director, but if it was too short to be relentless, it was undisciplined nevertheless. Music by Zdenek Liska.

Aka: Vtackovia, siroty a blazni
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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