Diamonds Of The Night

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Diamonds Of The Night
"Nemec knows that, in the real world, most people's trains of thought don't move steadily from one place to another like a teleplay but instead flit about, throwing up a murmur of a memory here, the whisper of a fantasy there."

This short and A Loaf Of Bread, which will screen with it at the Made In Prague festival in London, are both adapted from short stories by Arnošt Lustig. Bread also takes a key role in this film, which tells the story of two boys (Ladislav Jánsky and Antonín Kumbera) on the run through the forest after escaping a Nazi transport train. Director Jan Nemec was a life-long exponent of the concept of "pure film", urging viewers to forge their own connections between the images and ideas he presented and here he strips things back to the minimum to generate raw emotions.

When we meet the two boys - glimpsed in flashback wearing coats daubed with the damning letters KL (Konzentrationslager/Concentration Camp) - they are already on the verge of exhaustion. Nemec thrusts us into their environment as, too tired to speak, they scramble on to an unknown destination, the sounds of gunfire strafing in the background. With no dialogue to distract us, we are fully immersed in the boys' world view, their desperation evident in the way they hungrily slurp at water from a brook. As we watch them, we are presented with glimpses of their memories, less flashbacks than flickers of what may - or may not - have occurred. Nemec knows that, in the real world, most people's trains of thought don't move steadily from one place to another like a teleplay but instead flit about, throwing up a murmur of a memory here, the whisper of a fantasy there, our firing synapses producing a zoetrope-like portrait of the world seen in snippets, unreliable and often surreal.

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These youngsters are no different, memories of the train running alongside a fantasy sprint through a wrecked carriage and the attractive bosom of a woman passed on the street. The result is emotionally turbulent, underlined by additional surreal touches such as scurrying ants on a hand and face that recall Un Chien Andalou. Here they are imbued with additional menace because of the plight of the boys and the ostensibly pastoral setting. The uncertainty of what is real and imagined flows right to the end of the film, when we will be presented with two endings and left to separate fact from figment.

As the film progresses, the boy's begin to face a concrete danger in the form of a sort of Dad's Army hunting party. Nemec cuts between the fleeing boys and the old men who, while they may be pathetic in aspect and even blackly comic, as they struggle to even climb the terrain, are also chillingly remorseless in their pursuit. It's as though Nemec is warning us we can laugh if we like, but the killing machine will still be what slays you in the end.

This poking fun of authoritarianism is just one of the themes in the film that would go on to be a hallmark Nemec's career. Another is the use food as a motif, which is a key element in his classic The Party And The Guests right up to his final film The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street. Here the idea of bread as sustenance is subverted, while later the sounds of eating are grotesquely amplified to keep us in the boys' head space. Not just specifically about the Second World War, Nemec's film still has resonance today as a broader allegory for the politics of power and the often belligerent attitude of the old towards the young.

Diamonds Of The Night will screen with A Loaf Of Bread as part of the Jan Nemec retrospective at the Made In Prague festival at Regent St Cinema on November 11 at 6.30pm

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2017
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Two boys run away from the certain death awaiting them at a Nazi concentration camp.
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Director: Jan Němec

Writer: Jan Němec, based on the short story by Arnost Lustig

Starring: Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera, Ilse Bischofova, Ivan Asic, Jan Riha, August Bischof, Josef Koggel, Oskar Müller, Anton Schich, Rudolf Stolle, Josef Koblizek, Josef Kubat, Rudolf Lukásek, Bohumil Moudry, Karel Navratil

Year: 1964

Runtime: 63 minutes

Country: Czechoslovakia

Festivals:

Made In Prague 2017

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