Presented in partnership with the Queensland Film Festival and the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia.
Slovak-born Juraj Herz (b. 1934) remains one of the great unsung directors of Czechoslovakia's "golden '60s." Denied entrance to Prague's storied film school FAMU, having already studied puppetry and design, and with his greatest films emerging after the 1968 Soviet invasion, he has too often been overlooked in accounts of the Czechoslovak New Wave, notwithstanding that he directed a superb episode of Pearls of the Deep, 1965's omnibus film oft cited as a manifesto for the nascent movement (even if The Junk Shop was ultimately released separately) – or that his febrile 1972 doppelgänger fantasia Morgiana is widely considered the New Wave's very last gasp.
Interned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp aged ten, Herz's apprenticeship in film included assistant director duties on Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos' Academy Award-winning The Shop on the Main Street. Kadár admitted, "the foot of that Oscar belongs to Herz," whose expressionist 1968 masterpiece The Cremator would pitch Kadár and Klos' film's themes of the Holocaust and conformism into exponentially darker comedic territory. With that same year's Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring demanding there be no further smuggling of political commentary into film narratives, Herz turned to period films and fairytales.
This season of imported prints is rounded out by three hyper-stylised examples of his brilliant work cross-pollinating these ostensibly unprovocative genres, which for all their abundant aesthetic pleasures still present a reliably pessimistic take on the human condition.
Prints for this program are courtesy of The National Film Archive in Prague. Film notes by Cerise Howard.