In 1965, Passer began work on Intimate Lighting, a year before either Closely Watched Trains or Daisies, but his film garnered none of the international fame of those two, especially Menzel's Closely Watched Trains. Only recently has the film been rediscovered, and re-released, in 2010. Its lightness and charm make it an enjoyable treat to this day.
Intimate Lighting tells a simple story, that of Bambas (Karel Blazek), now living in the country, welcoming his old friend from Prague, Petr (Zdenek Bezusek) for a brief stay at his house. Petr brings his girlfriend, Stepa (Vera Kresadlova) and her urbanity stands in sharp contrast to the rustic simplicity around her.
Intimate Lighting isn't a movie that exists for intricate plotting. The story, such as it is, is simply Bambas and Petr being together again and trying to figure out their lives. They don't do this through long meaningful discussions, except during the final act, during a night of drinking, but through fits and starts and unfinished snippets as life gets in the way. Bambas plays trumpet for funerals and conducts the local musicians who have more passion for music than musical skill. Petr is a musician, too, a cellist, come down to take part for a weekend.
Petr's girlfriend, Stepa, amuses herself, sometimes inexplicably, as when she can't stop laughing during a dinner gathering, by engaging the environment around her. In one of the movie's most effective moments, Stepa flirts and plays with the local simpleton at the property's fence. She tells him her name, leans on the fence playfully, and offers up her apple, only to take it back. It's a wonderful moment and a showcase for the charms of Vera Kresadlova, who improvised most of the scene.
Ivan Passer's cast was almost entirely comprised of non-professional actors. Some had acted before (Vera Kresadlova was Milos Forman's wife at the time and had done one prior movie) but most were newcomers to the craft. Since music played a big part in the film and Passer was using non-actors anyway, he went with musical talent first. The character of Bambas was played by Karel Blazek who withheld from the cast and crew that he was suffering from advanced leukemia during the filming. Sadly, he died mere weeks after the shooting wrapped.
The real star of Intimate Lighting was Ivan Passer. Though he was more famous in the sixties as Milos Forman's scenarist, he took to directing like the natural he was. The simple setups and the way the camera follows characters, like Stepa laughing by the radiator, that aren't in the "center" of the scene but reacting to it, are ingenious ways to give the viewer a feeling of being just another guest at the house. It's Passer's light touch that make Intimate Lighting so enjoyable, so watchable. Of course, not everyone felt that way.
One of the stories that Passer tells, when he presents showings of the film or gives interviews, concerns the censorship board in Czechoslovakia at the time. Once a film was completed it had to be taken to a studio screening room where the director of the studio would sit in the front row with the censors behind him, followed by the director and the editor. As the film finished, all Passer could think was that no one reacted at all to any of it. No laughter at all. It wasn't a rollicking farce but, at least, Passer thought, it might elicit a chuckle, a laugh, a smile. That's when the studio director turned around and said to him, "That was probably the most boring movie I've ever seen." Passer was relieved. Boring meant no censorship. Except, that in this case, it did. Intimate Lighting was, indeed, banned, for years, but the reasons why were never fully explained. Passer believes the film was banned because it not only didn't protest the regime in power, it didn't even acknowledge their existence.
Ivan Passer would go on to make all of his movies, except for Intimate Lighting, outside of Czechoslovakia, with his biggest success being Cutter's Way, an American film made in 1981. Passer never had the success and recognition that his creative partner, Milos Forman, had but he is, in many ways, just as deserving. Time cannot go back and make him a retroactive success but it can allow more recognition to build up for his beautiful and lovely masterwork, Intimate Lighting.
Director: Ivan Passer
Writers: Jaroslav Papousek, Ivan Passer, Václav Sasek
Music: Josef Hart, Oldrich Korte
Cinematography: Miroslav Ondrícek, Jan Strecha
Editing: Jirina Lukesová
Production Design: Karel Cerný
Cast: Zdenek Bezusek (Petr), Karel Blazek (Bambas), Miroslav Cvrk (Kaja), Vera Kresadlová (Stepa), Dagmar Redinová (Young Marie), Jaroslava Stedra (Marie), Karel Uhlík (Pharmacist), Vlastimila Vlková (Grandmother), Jan Vostrcil (Grandfather)
by Greg Ferrara