Czech Mate – In Search of Jiri Menzel #jirimenzel

May 25, 2018 at 6:32 pm (Cinema, Kiran David) (, )

I have to confess there are very few documentaries that really interest me; as for peddling nobility of intent – I give a rat’s arse. For me it almost becomes difficult to see most of them. The documentaries I love manage to pivot on the cusp of reality and fiction. Hence the works of Marker, Godard, Ackerman, Varda, Resnais, Kiarostami, Matsumoto, Ivens and quite often, Herzog, have a special resonance for me. This doesn’t mean I do not see other documentaries. While there are exceptions, most of them are mundane.


Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s (normally known as Shivi) 7 hour-15 minute film, the financially demanding and crippling labour of love made over 8 years “Czech Mate” (In search of Jiri Menzel) is astonishing. Transcending the interview format film besides being a work of heroic endeavour.

What started as maybe a 90-min film on Menzel evolved into a window to the Czech new wave.

Menzel is still the central figure, but a whole era of the New Wave is evoked through the experiences of practitioners and their response to Jiri Menzel’s work. Shivi has managed to interview every living member of the movement and some of their precursors, mentors, current directors, cameramen, film historians and critics. Unfortunately, Otakar Vavra, teacher at FAMU, filmmaker and mentor, passed away (a little over a 100) a few days before he was to be interviewed. In the course of the completion of the film about 10 filmmakers who were interviewed passed away.

Other than the Czech greats we are familiar with, present in the project are the great now 90-plus Vojtěch Jasný whose “Cassandra Cat” I’m desperate to see. Also besides Věra Chytilová, we get to hear the other great woman director, Drahomira Vihanova, whose work I have unfortunately never seen. Alongside Czech and Slovakian film makers also featured are Wajda, Loach, Allen, Holland, Coutard, Kusturica, Zafranovic and Czech/Slovenian cinema authority and author, Peter Hames. The notable absentee among the living is Milan Kundera, who did teach at FAMU. Reticent for years, he generally doesn’t talk to anyone. He did agree this one time thanks to a request on the phone by Menzel, but a bomb blast in Paris drove him back to his shell.

What Shivi does with great intelligence is not impose a forced perspective on the work. He gives enough latitude to the participants and the film form to express ideas and emotion. As the work unfolds we experience the art that emerged and suffered along with its creators under the communist regime. A filmmaker says, “Hitler killed many… Stalin more.”  Telling us that the leftist governments in power also tended toward a tyranny and a kind of fascism. During the less than 8- month Prague Spring where Dubček tried to give a humane face to communism, many films were made but were banned by the time they were ready for release, only to find an audience some 20 years later in the 1990s, thanks to the Russian invasion. Directors who stayed in Czechoslovakia had to face persecution; even those who were not antagonistic openly, like Menzel, had to make compromises, or use codes to express their ideas.  Evald Schorm, often referred to as the saint of the movement, went through great suffering. Some of the directors defected, but only Forman found sucess, though his American works pale in comparison to his works at home. Jan Němec, the great master who made “Diamonds in the Night” and “A Report on the Party and the Guests” too defected to the States, but did not succeed. He jokes that he invented the Wedding Video. But behind the chuckle and bravado lies pain.

Magda Vášáryová, the actress of Menzel’s wonderful satire “Cutting it short” (based on the writings of   Bohumil Hrabal who along with Vladislav Vančura are the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century) was a victim of the so-called free western Europe. She was pelted with eggs by feminists for acting in the film. Hicks rabid with an agenda, however worthwhile, but lacking the intelligence to understand the subtleties and context of a work are no better than Mutalik’s goons beating up young women at pubs in Mangalore. Unlike them, Magda Vášáryová would bravely protest against the ruling dispensation, while government-armed snipers were placed on the rooftops ready to shoot. She did later become a Slovakian minister.

While Menzel, the central figure in the documentary, is admired, he is also criticised. The great documentary filmmaker, Karel Vachek whose films I haven’t yet seen, is particularly critical of his work. At one point criticising Menzel’s “My sweet little village” (written by   Zdeněk Svěrá), he calls it kitsch, and says at least with Hrabal’s work Menzel did not make kitsch. Vachek then begs pardon for being vulgar, and says the difference between him and Menzel is similar to that between Dostoevsky and Turgenev.

More importantly, however, the film is not a banal dispenser of facts; the work treats the audience with respect and allows for a healthy interaction between the viewer and his, her or its intelligence with the film; a tenuous matrix is formed between the perceiver and the perceived. It is one of the rare cases in Indian cinema where the filmmaker dares to use dead time to fine effect. The work, through its very being, evokes heroic endeavour, an artistic quest, a cultural context and the horrors of a terrifying political system.

– Kiran David.


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Drudgery Buildings

August 2, 2016 at 11:33 am (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

grey in the rain

same old place

of people

going about


on foot

in vehicles

flowing down

S V Road here

this drab dull day

this sewage of a city

in the downpour

this slushland

these crowded traffic horns

barking like mad dogs

these skies roaring in horror

these windows on edge

making my mind sweat

in rivers of randomness

I find myself drowning

amidst a million lives

I cannot understand

anything of

I cannot understand anything.

– Dominic Alapat

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Sometimes Here At Night

June 20, 2016 at 5:19 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

the moon howls so loud

I cannot sleep

the buildings wake

to a sky so drained

of blood in her blue face

the stars scared

all run from place

and fall into the darkness

one by one

in this mad night

so angry

it just won’t let go

of this terrified time’s tail

I must lie here in bed blank

my open eyes so strained

I could burst

any moment

and die.

-Dominic Alapat

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Life In Memory

May 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

that is the food

you eat

that is all you are allowed

and there are gardens of flowers

words words like air

you breathe

that keep you going

and when that connection is weak

you are sad

poetry and pain

in each other’s arms

in this one life

alone together

and the day smiles wickedly

the superior sun with its burning countenance

is blasé cruel blaring its bad heat

into your breaking mind

so mad so mad

your brain blows its fuse

and goes out

and only now do the dark clouds appear

in the sky in the morning

and burst into rain

these are your tears

this the sound of your cry

haunting the sky

your voice

soon washed into silence

-Dominic Alapat

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You Said

April 10, 2016 at 8:12 am (Dominic Alapat, Poetry, Uncategorized)

you were walking
with a bucket in your hand
you said God was in the bucket
you said you walked for hours
along this road in a foreign country
while cars went zzzupp zzzupp
in the afternoon
many years later I met you once
outside my house
you were drunk
you played your piano in that hall
and hit us
we sang
on a sea of song
we sailed to Rome
O captain at the helm
see this soldier
marching off to war
in his helmet and armour
his mother weeping
we ran like deer through the woods
chased by a burning moon
we sang and the hall rang with our voices
vive la vive la vive l’amour
your wife had died…
many years after your own death
today I think of your dark glasses
your grief.

– Dominic Alapat

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We Are Tree

March 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

singing angel
in the blue bush
of the sky
when we stand
at windows
in the cool air
of the morning
the buildings race
like a symphony
till the eye can see
the mind register
this beautiful expanse
this silent music of the senses
begin to soar
in the darkness
that is clearing.

– Dominic Alapat

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Over The Sea

February 7, 2016 at 8:22 am (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

~ For Adil Jussawalla

the birds fly in one straight line
the golden sea in early evening
a hazy smell of brine hangs in the air
there’s the white lighthouse
and the boats
a yacht
with a triangle of white sail
a speedboat leaving
a long white line
in the water
and nearby the lanes
leading to Sassoon Dock
the old lime-washed buildings
almost black
like ghost houses
their red-tiled roofs
faded brown
the flowering trees
like a beautiful forest of colours
orange red white
the crossroads with vehicles plying
the red BEST buses
the people on the footpaths
taking their tiny lives about
the big white skyscrapers here
their windows
their terraces with antennas
the patches of green land
in the distance
the blue mountains beyond
and the birds
always the birds
crows herons pigeons
flying in this sky
while we talk
in your house here
18 stories above the ground.

– Dominic Alapat

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If I Was A Painter

December 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

 I would paint the scene

outside my window this morning

Mograpada in mist

the small brown houses

in the distance

the railway tracks beyond

all hazy

the signal poles the buildings

and the trains slowly ambling

its like a scene

from some dream

a painting

in beautiful hues of whites blues and earth

I would draw

this local paradise

but it was while I was thinking this

that the best part happened

when an engine blew

its loud melodious horn

and had the final word.


– Dominic Alapat

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I Weep

November 18, 2015 at 6:40 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

from the belly of my mind.

The withered trees are silent crows.

There is not a single star

no moon in my mouth.

I am empty of myself.

I fall into water.


The sky emits black smoke

in great whooshes.

Birds burst into blobs of blood.

Buildings collide, collapse into rubble.

Everywhere my poor mother

distraught, dies.


– Dominic Alapat


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I Have Been Collecting My Thoughts

October 16, 2015 at 7:32 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

day by day

without fail

but they all

seem the same

the same old room

the same old sun

the same old buildings hum

I think I’ll be mum

rather than some dull drum

but my mind keeps pushing me

and I go from room to room

and keep forgetting myself over and over

in the morning

in the afternoon

in the grey evening light before night

when birds circle frantically in the blue

I coo

O sky fall

do not stay there so sombre

let me rise

rise and rise


– Dominic Alapat

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