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5 Czech films to check out

Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do pravěku) (1955; directed by Karel Zeman). Zeman, a luminary figure in the development of special effects, made this film nearly 40 years before Jurassic Park, which is a truly remarkable feat. The story centers on the journey that four young boys undertake on a river through time; it gives life to the pictures and bones we find in museums. Some tremendous set pieces will take your breath away.

Happy End (1967; dir. Oldřich Lipský). Not even 70 minutes long, this film is as unconventional as it is impressive. Opening with a title card that says "The End," the film builds on its backwardness as it moves in linear fashion from its main character’s death to birth. Your expectation of progress in the opposite direction will have you shaking with mirth even as you appreciate moments of visual poetry.

The Fireman's Ball (Hoří, má panenko, 1967; dir. Miloš Forman). Made on a shoestring budget shortly before the Soviet invasion in August 1968, Forman’s film has rightly been called one of the country’s most important films. This very thinly veiled critique of authoritarianism is presented with a flair for comedy and a high level of entertainment, and it remains an intelligent allegory that some may say is still relevant today.

The Ear (Ucho) (1970; dir. Karel Kachyňa). The film's screenwriter was a communist activist in his youth, which caused the film to be banned upon its release and not screened in public until the Velvet Revolution. It takes place during a single evening at the house of Ludvik, a high-level civil servant, who becomes convinced his house has been bugged. The atmosphere is electric, as recurring flashbacks to a party earlier in the evening—shot from Ludvik’s perspective—effortlessly reel the viewer in.

Jára Cimrman Lying, Sleeping (Jára Cimrman ležící, spící) (1983; dir. Ladislav Smoljak). This comedy takes a look at the life of the most famous Czech who never lived. The film is bookended by scenes in the present, when museum visitors are told about all of the incredible events that have occurred in the character's life; in 2005 Jára Cimrman was voted the most important Czech in history in a national poll.

—André Crous

Updated: 2014-02-13

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