New Wave Czech films this weekend at the Getty

The Getty Museum celebrates the Czech New Wave in cinema this weekend

France wasn’t the only European country to experience a New Wave in filmmaking in the 1960s. This weekend, the J. Paul Getty Museum is presenting “Czech Film and the Prague Spring,” a series complementing the current exhibition on the Czech photographer Josef Koudelka.

The Prague Spring, which began in January 1968, was period of political liberalization from the Soviet Union’s oppressive domination. But the new season of freedom encountered a brutal summer.

On Aug. 21, 1968, Koudelka walked the streets of Prague with his Leica, capturing the violent Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion that ended the Prague Spring. The photographer was forced to smuggle his images of the invasion out of the country, and he ultimately fled to Britain in 1970. The films to be presented at the Getty were all shot during the period that Koudelka was working in the country.

That includes director Jan Nemec's 1968 documentary short, “Oratorio for Prague,” which he shot on the streets during the invasion.

Nemec, film series programmer Andrea Alsberg said, had already angered the Czech president with his 1966 surreal examination of the political hierarchy, “A Report on the Party and Its Guests.” Alsberg said Nemec started work on “Oratorio for Prague” before the Soviets came in.

"He wanted to do a documentary on the new Prague," she said. "But he was there on the night when the tanks rolled in. He caught all of that. Just like Koudelka's photos, it had to be smuggled out. He left immediately and went to France.”

Other films in the series include Vera Chytilova’s surreal, experimental 1966 “Daisies”; Jaromil Jires’ 1968 “The Joke,” which focuses on life in the country during the harsh Stalinist era of the 1950s; and Karel Kachyna’s “The Ear,” which Alsberg described as  “blatant indictment of living under totalitarianism. It has essence of film noir and 'Whose Afraid of Virgina Woolf?' It’s a really tight spy drama."

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