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- 8.6.2010 11:15 -

Špáta at a wild beach...

wild wild beach

Recently, the Docalliancefilms portal offered a free streaming of three restored documentary films by renown Czech documentarist Jan Špáta within the “Restored Films of Jan Špáta” project. In the following reflection, let us recall Špáta and his films once more, and that in a rather surprising connection with the Russian film Wild, Wild Beach/ Жар нежных. Дикий, Дикий пляж by directors Mansky, Rastorguev and Susanna Baranzhieva as introduced in the portal’s online distribution. Those familiar with some of the most famous films of Jan Špáta’s wide-ranging work will sooner or later have to think of the parallel with Špáta’s renowned film Between Light and Darkness/Mezi světlem a tmou while watching the wild film made by three Russian filmmakers. Depicting a similar subject, both works produce a different tone and message. It is this very difference that is worth discussing as it is instrumental in tracing the concrete outlines of Špáta’s documentary method. Possibly alluding to the Wild Wild West, the film Wild, Wild Beach depicts a setting that is as specific as Špáta’s Sovinec village. It is home to people of low social status with a strong tendency towards social pathology (alcoholism, devastation of the environment). However, despite what seems to be an annoyingly soulless atmosphere of moral and intellectual primitivism, people still live their unique lives there. Whereas Špáta’s film is set in a forgotten spot of the Czech countryside, the Russian film depicts an outpost of the Russian countryside – the recreation resort at the Black Sea. Despite their different geographical location and size, the character of their inhabitants remains more or less the same. The two films also have a common protagonist – a photographer. In Špáta’s film, it is the renowned Czech art photographer Jindřich Štreit, while Wild, Wild Beast portrays Yevgeniy, a rather commercial photographer who walks along the beach with his camel, offering an exotic photograph to potential customers. Both films also feature the presidents of the two countries (while Vladimir Putin arrives at the beach personally in all his beauty, Václav Havel only leaves an imprint in the film in the form of his portrait on a match box. However, his personality is employed in a symbolical way just like the one of Putin). However, the obvious connection between the two films consists primarily in their theme – an immersion into human misery, primarily a spiritual one. Before the spectator gets a chance to catch his breath, he already is stuck up to his necks in ugliness, stupidity, awkwardness and cruelty of the human tragicomedy, with ugliness, old age, handicap and lifeless drunken bodies for guides. In Wild, Wild Beach, man is laid bare to his animal roots. These are expressed in a most intensive manner by the images of the naked human body. Along with the naked grotesque corporeality, what is also shown is man laid bare of his superego, man rooted in his instincts and fundamental needs, man living from day to day in a cycle of stereotypes finally culminating in death. However, even such a man is still longing to discover the sense of life, or happiness, if you like; he, too, can sense the human tension while groping between the bottles with liquor, though trapped in the cycle of his powerlessness and hopelessness. In this sense, the inhabitants of Sovinec are not different from the tourists at the beach of the Wild East – except for being far thinner. It is not by chance that Jan Špáta considered his film Between Light and Darkness his darkest film (see the book of interviews Moments of Joy). Similarly, the makers of the Wild Beach, too, assumed the position of the “objective” observer who is a direct witness of the events, however, taking part only by the camera objective focused on man. In the end, this method does arrive at the limits of similarity in its depiction of the situation of human misery, its totality and its hopelessness. The basic difference between the two creative approaches can be illustrated most effectively by the comparison of the central characters – the photographers. Both of them live and work in the place depicted in the film; nevertheless, the position of meaning they assume towards their environment is diametrically different. Whereas Yevgeniy the photographer who takes pictures of tourists on the beach with a camel or monkey to make his living is a character fully integrated in his environment, there is no doubt that Jindřich Štreit stands outside. He is part of the image only by his physical presence, with his personality and relevance reaching beyond, and thus bringing a radically different perspective and values to the film. Primarily, it is the aesthetic value. Štreit’s black-and-white portraits of the Sovinec inhabitants have such flair that, unlike their models, they can be considered beautiful. In this case, the hopelessness of the human farce is radically disrupted. In his depiction of ugliness and poverty, Špáta does not fail to add that this cannot be all; that poverty and ugliness are not absolute; in a way, they are but one of many possible perspectives. The church may be burned out and overgrown with thicket, however, the observer who wants to see it can still see it, its outlines still being visible in the jungle of weeds. The value of beauty is further supported by Špáta’s choice of musical accompaniment. While in the Wild beach the images are accompanied only by the soulless disco rhythms, i.e. the real stuff to be heard at the beach most of the time, Špáta accompanies his images by Mahler’s music. Thus his final statement seems to say that though we have but one life to live there are always more perspectives from which it can be perceived. Finally, let us realize that though Špáta’s aestheticizing film approach might seem rather pretentious and stylized in comparison with the rather journalistic videos taken by hand-held digital cameras at a wild beach, in a way, it can be closer to reality as we know it. The reality that is always multi-layered. Be it in Sovinec or at the shore of the Black Sea.

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