Intimate Lighting: Overlooked Treasure of the Czech New Wave / by emma piper-burket

Daisies drew me into this Czech-film-world I am currently living, but there is another film I have come across recently that has made an equally strong impression. It is Ivan Passer's 1965 contribution to Czech New Wave- Intimate Lighting (Intimní osvětlení).

The story follows two childhood friends, Bambas and Petr, who are musicians. Bambas lives in the countryside in a house which he built, with his wife, children and in-laws. Petr is a soloist, living in Prague, who comes to town with his beautiful and semi-feral girlfriend, Stepa, to perform at a local concert. There is not much action in the film, but in the course of the 70 odd minutes, a beautiful atmosphere and mood is woven through simple scenes and minimal dialogue. We understand the characters and their world fully.

In typical New Wave fashion, the production was not complicated, filmed on location rather than in a studio, and using mostly non-professional actors there is a feeling that we are truly catching a slice of life, with all it's awkwardness, humor, absurdities and beauty. Intimate Lighting makes no overt political statements, yet it was banned in the Czech Republic for 20 years after it was made. Passer explains in a lovely interview with Olivier Père in 2012 that, “The Communist Party would even tolerate if the filmmakers argue with them about politics, but they really hated when you ignored them. My film ignored them totally.”  

It is somewhat difficult to track down a copy of Intimate Lighting.  It was released on DVD by UK distributors Second Run Films in 2006. Graeme Hobbs writes upon the film's release: It is appropriate to think of Intimate Lighting as the memory of a visit. Conversations cut across each other, children disrupt mealtimes and a meeting between two old colleagues has to take place among the confusion of preparations and events of the day.”  This description is quite apt, upon watching it, we truly feel we come to know the characters. In that same interview with Olivier Père, Passer touches upon this theme, elaborating on his motivations and intentions with the piece:

I met a guy who saw Intimate Lighting sixty times. When I make a film I like to have an emotional target, I like to imagine what state of mind the audience should leave the theatre with, and in this movie I was hoping they would like to come back because they liked the characters. We visit our relatives, our friends, we know what they are going to say, to do, but we like them. I thought that is how my movie should be, and it did happen.

It is a beautiful way to think about a film- as an old friend or relative, and this is reflected in the film itself. The characters are familiar yet captivating in the banality of their familiarity.

So there it is. A (long-winded) film recommendation, from me to you.