A Report on the Party and Guests
Filmed in 1966, the film immediately raised the ire of President Antonin Novotny and made it a target at the 1967 National Assembly meeting that also resulted in a country-wide ban of Vera Chytilova's freewheeling masterpiece, Daisies. Its 1966 release was halted with the film only getting temporary distribution in 1968 (the same year it received a limited American release from Sigma III Corp.), only to be banned after the conclusion of the Prague Spring. In Michael Koresky's essay for the Eclipse DVD release as part of a Czech New Wave set, he explains that director Jan Nemec was undaunted by the fate of his film and even captured footage of the Soviet invasion in 1968, with its resulting footage and use for the documentary short Oratorio for Prague resulting in Nemec's banishment from his home country until 1990.
Incredibly, this was only the second complete feature film for Nemec, following the acclaimed 1964 release Diamonds of the Night. The filmmaker brought in his cousin, philosopher Jiri Nemec, to play the role of Josef, while the rest of the cast was filled out with other non-professional actors like theatrical director Ivan Vyskocil, film director Evald Schorm (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1967), composers Karel Mares (The Firemen's Ball, 1967) and Jan Klusak (who went on to do Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, 1970), and married writers Zdena Skvorecka and Josef Skvorecky.
The upheaval of the time in which the film was made goes some way to explaining how Nemec and company might not have been aware of the furor they would cause with such a simple story, which takes just over an hour to tell. Many Eastern European filmmakers and writers were critical to varying degrees of the governing forces, and as Moritz Pfeifer noted in his study on the film in East European Film Bulletin, this generation felt particularly betrayed because of its initial investment in their governments. By this point, "a whole generation on both sides of the Iron Curtain had grown up with propaganda that tried to disseminate ideas about the supremacy of its respective political system. American Dream vs. New Soviet Man. Movies, like other forms of propaganda, played an active role in selling these ideas and making the cold war cultural." In Nemec's film, the need to hold on to the status quo as a kind of security blanket was a recipe for disaster; the happy picnickers have become "so attached to the condition of having a great time, that they are willing to sacrifice everything for it to continue, even under the condition that they actually stop having a great time. Thus the hypocrisy does not only lie in the host of the Party, but also in the picnickers who accept cruelty, injustice, and humiliation, as long as it is presented to them in the form of the initial condition that is so dear to them."
Of course, the prohibition against the film ultimately worked in its favor as audiences around the globe have become increasingly aware of its importance within the Czech New Wave, which has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years with new generations of viewers relating closely to the combination of experimental storytelling, mordant humor, and razor-sharp political observation, qualities that also seem increasingly rare in new English-language films today.
By Nathaniel Thompson