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Les États généraux du film documentaire 2013 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Drahomíra Vihanová

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Drahomíra Vihanová

The work of Drahomíra Vihanová remains a little known treasure of Czech cinema. A proud woman, libertarian in spirit, persecuted for her ideas and her art during the years when order was being reimposed after the Prague Spring, Vihanová made her reputation as a documentary filmmaker at the end of the seventies, after several years of forced idleness under the pro-soviet regime.
Following her studies at the Famu, the Prague Film Academy, she began with a courageous medium length film in which we can already perceive the major characteristics of her cinema: a freedom of language close to the European new waves. The young African musician, protagonist of Fuga na černých klávesách is already emblematic of her future characters. This tormented character, proud, free, but ill at ease in a country where he feels profoundly an outsider, answers like a kind of close cousin, to the young desperate soldier of the director's magnificent first feature-length film, Zabitá neděle. After these two works where fiction combined with documentary, Vihanová was obliged by the authorities to abandon fiction and restrict herself to documentaries – she was authorised to return to fiction only at the end of the nineties.
Her art is "impure": in all her films there is a tension towards fiction, towards the construction of characters and stories, and at the same time a rigorous attention to humanity, its weaknesses, loves and excesses.
Vihanová's art is an art of the portrait. Her most sensitive and most successful films are those in which we see workers and artists at work, where we accompany their hesitations, doubts, anxieties, more than their successes. Hesitation is an essential characteristic of Vihanová's cinema. The texture of her films is always a web which opens, which unfurls releasing thoughts and emotions. Her way of making films constantly defies the present, going beyond all ideology and proposes a critical and humanist vision of Czech society.
It is certainly not by chance that she chose to sketch the portrait of two important non-conformist figures of her country's culture: the great jazz singer Eva Olmerová and the master of the Czech new wave, František Vláčil. Drahomíra Vihanová has something fundamental in common with each of these two extraordinary characters, something at the root of her way of recomposing reality. With Vláčil, it is the suffering caused by the cultural and political decadence of Czechoslovakia, an affection for the humble, a faith in cinema as a means of expressing universal values. With Olmerová, it is her radically non-conformist existential choices and ways of thinking, her feminine passion for life, love and art.
Vihanová's cinematographic style is classical only in appearance for her elegant, refined direction is combined with a second, metalinguistic level in which we discover the mechanism at work within the film itself. Vihanová intervenes directly in the documentary, questions her characters, attempts to capture the truth which remains multiple, fragmentary and insoluble. The director becomes the catalyst of ethical and aesthetic doubts and the film is the acted out inscription of her ambivalent feelings, existential and poetic uncertainties. Her documentaries are open in their narrative structure and in their style; the use of a hand-held camera gives us a sensation of formal freshness and liberty.
Her films deal with a great variety of themes: the place of women, of work, the history of Czechoslovakia, modernisation, music, ageing. And yet we find a remarkable coherence and singularity in her viewpoint. The lesson of freedom of thought and stylistic rigour transmitted even today by these documentaries is a powerful reminder that in film, as in life, daily resistance to defend our rights, our democracy, our independence, our love of art and life continues to be indispensable.

Federico Rossin

Debates led by Federico Rossin in the presence of Drahomíra Vihanová (with reserve).