Black Peter ★★★★½

Part of Lise and Jonnie’s March Around the World 2017

Black Peter – Film 18 – Czechoslovakia

As this years 30 Countries draws to a close, I wanted to sneak in something that I was confident I was going to love to end on a high note, for what once again has been a collection of many surprisingly wonderful films. While my sweetie has unearthed gems from unlikely countries like Afghanistan, Chad, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan, the more reliable countries like Australia, the Soviet Union, and South Korea were disappointments. ( I have to admit that I was shocked that a sure fire win by picking an Aki Kaurismaki was also a failure .. whoda thunkit! ).

Well, I placed my bet on Milos Forman’s Czechoslovakian debut, Black Peter. No Czech New Wave film has ever been anything less than a gem for me, and his only two other native land works, Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball I hold up as two of the funniest and most insightful gems I’ve had the pleasure to come across.

Black Peter didn’t disappoint.

Czech New Wave has a proclivity for hiding its message in coming of age stories that spare no self-deprecating infliction of wounds. The central allusion is that the country is coming of age, and not always doing a very good job of it. The country is often lazy and lascivious, and this is always played out to great humorous effect. Black Peter is a perfect blueprint of this both for Foreman himself, and his Czech filmmaking brethren.

Our hapless young protagonist, as he prepares to enter the world of gainful employment, is the prototypical slacker who would much rather be anywhere than under his employer’s totalitarian thumb. He hates the idea of work, but he hates his particular ‘security’ work even more, as it encompasses ratting out people he knows (even though they are thieves). Like other entries in this film movement, you don’t have to dig deep to see political commentary of Czechoslovakia’s situation in the early 60’s.

With the oppression these people suffered, you would expect dark, dank, and depressing art as the result. Not from these remarkable people though. There is always humor in criticism, both of their fate and of themselves, and that’s a potent antidote to an otherwise dystopian existence.

Alas this type of art can only flourish under so much pressure. When the authoritarian hand is at your throat, or more succinctly when tanks are on your square, this quiet revolt dies.

Milos Forman fled to the United States in the shadow of the crackdown after Prague Spring. Of course, his talent was unabated, bringing us masterpieces like One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Amadeus, but while these were great films, there were no more Black Peters.

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