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Jiří Barta made a very Czech puppet film

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Both children and adults alike will admire the colourful and peculiar world of Barta's puppet film. (COURTESY)Both children and adults alike will admire the colourful and peculiar world of Barta’s puppet film. (COURTESY)

It is a triumphant resurrection of the Czech puppet school. A full-length picture Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny [In the Attic or Whose Birthday is it Today?] brings back one of the most renowned Czech animation director Jiří Barta (the author of the film Krysař [Rat-catcher] and Zaniklý svět rukavic and of the never-completed Golem). Barta, in cooperation with the script writer and writer Edgar Dutka, created a puppet film that has a chance to become a classic and at the same time one of the most appreciated Czech films of the year, although there are neither famous faces nor is it designated primarily for a grown-up audience.

Do-it-yourself as a programme

Na půdě may be a film for children, however, adults will have at least as much, if not more fun, watching it. And they will admire the colourful and peculiar world that Barta managed to create with the help of several objects from an antique shop and used toys collected from various places. It is amusing to discover the objects which form Barta’s fairy tale world – an old vacuum cleaner that stands in as a rescue aircraft, citizens represented by figures from the game Člověče, nezlob se [Sorry!], a locomotive with the lights made of torches and powered by a peeler and a stirring spoon, thimbles serving as cups, well-sharpened pencils used as swords, the sky clouding over with cushions as clouds and a stormy sea made of of black polythene.

The peculiar magic of the Czech DIY phenomenon, which is now so “cool” in the world, can be seen in this film. Moreover, the second-hand aesthetic does not look at all shabby and it rather adds to the originality of the film. As a side effect, the film shows that it is possible to make a film that will capture one’s attention even with limited resources and with only the help of the renowned “golden Czech hands” – without any blatant product placement, which is seen in the film only on the Czech pencils (because the lid from a bottle of mineral water is on the head of the dwarf Šubrt only accidentally).
Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny has a chance to become a classic and one of the most appreciated Czech films of the year. (COURTESY)Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny has a chance to become a classic and one of the most appreciated Czech films of the year. (COURTESY)

However, Na půdě is not only a charming “visual” film. It is also an adventurous story full of action about a group of old toys that rebel against the Master of Zlo [Evil] after he kidnaps their housewife, the doll Pomněnka [Forget-Me-Not], who prepares a birthday celebration every morning for breakfast.

The powers of Good and Evil are clearly defined as in every fairy tale, but even here the authors did not abandon the frolicsome Czech approach, especially in the cast’s characteristics. And so the “fearless” knight Krasoň fights only with an inflatable dragon, while otherwise he is more of a yellow-bellied coward, the bear Mucha is good-hearted, but at the same time he is a couch potato, and dwarf Šubrt is brave enough to go help Pomněnka, but he gets lost on the first rescue mission in the human world.

It is the implantation of the real world into the plot that has been done very well – there is a grandma who enters the story with her granddaughter as they go hang up the laundry in the attic, and Master of Evil has the face of Czech actor Jiří Lábus masked as a discarded totalitarian bust and using the corresponding vocabulary, which makes it impossible not to make associations with the Czech past. Not mentioning the incorporation of a live tomcat as a malicious saboteur at the railway, or a woman staring while there is the voice of mouse Sklodowska calling for help on the radio.

Lost childhood discovered

The world of puppets is occasionally supplemented by cartoon animations and the film also made use of digital technology, but it does not take anything from its purity. In addition, it evokes those nostalgic feelings of lost childhood when we used to admire the films by Jiří Trnka and Hermína Týrlová in a similar way.

Despite all this, Na půdě is not an infantile film – it can even seem scary to the smallest children at the moment when the sky is clouding over with cushions over the heroes’ idyllic world and when Pomněnka is tormented by clouds of dust. However, everything will turn out well in the end, as in all fairy tales.

The strength of the film Na půdě is obvious especially if we compare it to other films. The existing post-1989 puppet films consist of shorter stories, while Na půdě brings a solid story in a full-length film. And the loud-mouthed “first Czech 3D film” Kozí příběh [Goat Story] made many reviewers and the public scoff at its persistent effort to look like Shrek. The authors of the film Na půdě are very Czech in their attitude to the content and the visual side of the film – and that is why they can captivate, amaze and enchant not only the Czech, but also the foreign audience.

Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny. Czech Republic. Directed by Jiří Barta. Release date: 5 March, Distribution Cinemart.

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