As many of you already know, 2020 has been the year of a number of misfortunes that have affected all of us. One of which was the passing of Ivan Passer, a prominent figure that helped establish the Czech New Wave movement. He worked as an assistant director for some of Miloš Forman’s earlier films like Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde, a film he also co-wrote along with The Firemen’s Ball. Before he and Forman moved to the United States, Passer managed to direct his first full-length feature in his homeland of Czechoslovakia, titled Intimate Lighting, which is widely considered to be his masterpiece.
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The story centres around Bambas (Karel Blažek), a music teacher who invites his old friend Petr (Zdeněk Bezušek) to play as the soloist for an upcoming concert. Petr arrives at Bambas’ house accompanied by his young girlfriend, Stepa (Věra Křesadlová), where he meets Bamba’s wife, kids, and parents — who all live under the same roof. Much like Black Peter, the film focuses on individual moments in the lives of these characters as they go about their days. This might seem like there isn’t a lot going on, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These moments actually give us insight into the lives of these characters and paint an earnest and realistic picture of domestic life…
For a film that appears to be pretty aimless, there are many moments that stand out. There’s a great scene where the characters exchange dinner plates with one another over a drumstick (as if it was a game); a scene where Bambas, his father, Petr, and the Pharmacist practice for the concert, only for Bambas to constantly reprimand his father for his timing; and a detour to a funeral where Bambas and his father go to perform.
Steppa’s carefree spirit also leads to some interesting interactions with the rest of the characters. She’s constantly looking for ways to entertain herself during her stay. She plays with the kids, has fits of uncontrollable laughter, listens to the grandmother’s stories, finds some kittens, and even has a nice conversation with a mentally-challenged local.
But the key to the film is the relationship between Bambas and Petr. As they partake in some homemade brew, Bambas reveals how he feels trapped in the routine of his everyday life. He knows everything that’s going to happen in the house, including when his father will visit the bathroom. That’s why he takes fishing trips — to escape from the monotony of his daily routine. He even describes it as an adventure where “anything can happen.” As they get drunker and drunker, they end up listening to their significant others sleep so they can compare the sound of their snores, an amusing way to spend their evening.
This naturalistic take on everyday life makes for an incredibly pleasant experience — which is needed more than ever nowadays. But it also features the melancholic aspect of knowing that your best years are far behind you, and all that’s left are the routines that, while repetitive, can still be just as meaningful as any adventure. The whole film is made up of these moments, and they are as engaging as any plot-driven sequence thanks to the film’s vivid characters, genuine emotions, and sense of humour.
It’s clear to see how much potential Passer had as a filmmaker. And while he didn’t find the same success his colleague Miloš Forman found in the United States, he still managed to build a respectable catalogue of films of his own. And Intimate Lighting still shines as brightly as it did when it was first released back in 1965. The film brilliantly captures the simple moments in life as beautifully mundane and worthwhile as they truly are. And while they might not seem significant, it’s the little things that we really end up remembering, and Passer’s contributions to cinema won’t soon be forgotten.