The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street
"Its facts and its fictions come together so seamlessly that it’s almost impossible to separate the man from the myth."

Jan Nemec remains avant-garde to the last with his final film, even if, by 2016, he may have aged from enfant terrible with The Party And The Guests to self-styled old wolf. “The wolf still stays the wolf, even if he is a little worn out after some time,” says the narrator (Karel Roden in what might be considered one of two ‘versions’ of the director who appear in the film). And what’s the first thing we learn about wolves as children? That they are rarely what they seem.

So it is with Nemec’s provocative and puckish autobiographical film, which also fittingly features a fish prominently towards its end – a nod towards the fish-eye lens used both here and more centrally in his quasi-biography Late Night Talks With Mother, and towards the red herrings that swim through this film. Although the loose narrative is based on his own short stories Don’t Shake Hands With The Waiter and his life in general, its facts and its fictions come together so seamlessly that it’s almost impossible to separate the man from the myth. This was no doubt Nemec’s intent, as he shows us how easy it is to make propaganda believable, especially when it comes nestled in half-truths.

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His consideration of himself as a filmmaker begins in 1968 when, with The Party And The Guests, he was one of a trio of Czech New Wave directors to be invited to Cannes Film Festival - along with Jiri Menzel (Capricious Summer) an Milos Foreman (The Firemen’s Ball). The film asserts that the three of them had been assured that one would win the Palme d’Or, although we’ll never know for sure as that was the year the festival was fatefully brought to a halt by Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch and Francois Truffaut amid civic unrest.

Godard, in particular, commands most of Nemec’s ire through the film, with the director even going so far as to ‘kill off’ the Frenchman at one point. Nemec recreates the idea of Cannes via archive footage and re-enactment – he is played throughout by Jiri Madl – blending the two to highlight the humour. It’s hard to know when Nemec is being serious but there is a sense that there is at least a small amount of score settling going on as he offers a canter through his life after Cannes, including his exile from Czechoslovakia, time spent in America and his eventual return to his homeland. One minute, he’s attempting to chat up a woman on a flight before take-off, the next he’s facing Kafkaesque bureaucracy, both in Czechoslovakia and the US or having a bizarre meeting with Ivanka Trump.

All the time, Nemec emphasises the constructed nature of the enterprise but his ability to generate emotion and feeling – from the Prague Spring to collecting an award – ensures that we want to believe everything anyway. Take, for example, the story in the film concerning he, Foreman and Menzel receiving Crystal Globes at Karlovy Vary Film Festival in 2015. It’s true, they were all given the honour, but not in the same year, though watching this you could almost swear you were there. What we have here is Nemec the smuggler, but whether he is bringing contraband truths in under the cover of lies or illicit fictions under the cloak of truth, is left up to us to decide. As sign-offs go, it has panache.

The film will have its UK premiere as part of the Jan Nemec retrospective at the Made In Prague festival at 8.30pm on Friday November 10.

Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2017
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The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street packshot
A comedic reinvention of the director's own own quasi-autobiographical short stories.

Director: Jan Němec

Writer: Jan Nemec

Starring: Jirí Mádl, Karel Roden, Jirí Bartoska, David Bowles, Lucia Gajdosík, Markéta Janousková, Jirí Menzel, Gabriela Mícová, Ted Otis, Tatiana Pauhofová, Martin Pechlát

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, France


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