Review of The Czech Year (1947)

Moving picture, 75 minutes

Seen in 2018.

I saw a restored 2K version at the cinematheque.

Traditional Czech culture as shown through fairy-tales, nursery rhymes and popular biblical interpretations describing the span of a year.

Stop-motion anthology, originally created as a series of six shorts, then edited into a feature.

A lot of the material is dry and the stop-motion animation does not extend to the faces of the puppets, leaving them always effectively expressionless. The biblical stuff is the usual European medieval misreadings, including placing a red-skinned horned Satan in the garden of Eden, something that never happens in Genesis (ca. 500–400 BCE). “Gypsies” are vilified.

The film’s saving grace is its attention to the quality of the animation, including enigmatic little details which go unexplained in the total absence of narration. In one such shot, a wreath floats on a stream and the medieval figure of Death appears floating up to it, then quickly descends once more into the water without breaking the surface; it’s beautifully done and suggests a deep appreciation for the material. Twice, figures move on textured rollers near the camera to give the appearance of a great landscape passing beneath them, brilliantly compressed into the shallow space of the studio. Alas, these great moments of overt artificiality and artistry are barely frequent enough to sustain interest.

moving picture animation fiction