Literature and film

Peter Michalovič

Although the history of Slovak cinematography may not be as rich as that of other countries, it does nevertheless give us an identifiable continuous tradition of making film adaptations of literary works, both by domestic and foreign authors. This is true for films intended for cinemas as well as television broadcast.

            The film uses literary works for its adaptations since the film ranks, alongside with literature, among the narrative arts, meaning that their common denominator are stories. The stories in film are shown, while they are narrated in literature; fabula, as an extract from the literary work, can be used as a foundation for creating a new syuzhet, i.e. a new film work. Film adaptations of literary works are paradoxical, with this paradox flowing from there being limited by literary works on the one hand, and each film adaptation not being an ordinary translation from one medium to another, but, rather, a transformation. The very fact that a film adaptation is a transformation of a literary text opens an interval of adaptation possibilities. Simply put, this interval is defined by two points, where the first point is made of strict or faithful film adaptations, i.e. those endeavouring for the least possible deviation from the literary original. These include, for example, a film adaptation of the literary work Starý včelár (The Old Beekeeper), which will be discussed later. The other point comprises interpretations that are free, with their creators choosing a number of motifs from the literary originals, which they later enrich with new motifs, diverting the film adaptation significantly from the literary work in many points. A typical example of a free relationship between a literary work and a film adaptation is Dušan Hanák’s film 322. The film is based on a novel by Ján Johanides Potápača priťahujú pramene mora (The Diver Attracted by Sea Springs). The screenwriter and director in one person distanced himself from the literary original mainly by enriching the character of chef Lauko with his past, not mentioned in the novella. The freedom applied though did no harm to the original novella, while it made room for creative use of showing the story via pictures. The visual side of the film is extraordinarily impressive.

            Miloslav Luther is one of the directors who has been involved in film adaptations of literary works almost since the beginning of his directing career. He has made many high-quality film adaptations of the greats of Slovak literature, and in order to understand the specifics of his approach to adaptations, we will choose three films from his filmography that highlight his distinctive touch as a film director.

Triptych on Love

The television film Triptych o láske (Triptych on Love) is an adaptation of three novellas by Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, whose work oscillates between realism and naturalism.[1] The screenplay about three parables of love was written by the prominent Slovak literary historian Ján Števček.

            The first film short story is called Lissote alebo východ slnka (Lissote or Sunrise) and was created as an adaptation of Jégé’s short story Pán biskup a východ slnca (The Bishop and the Sunrise). It was first published in 1928, in the magazine Živena, and after its publication, the Catholic bishop Karol Kmeťko protested against the alleged defilement of a high church dignitary. To understand the reason for his protest, let us recall the fabula that is identical both to the literary work and its film adaptation. The story is simple: the young girl Lissote from the mill brings to the bishop flour intended for the Pope. She fetches the flour as she is the only virgin far and wide, and in order that the flour can work miraculously, it must be brought by a faithful virgin, virgo fidelis. The old bishop is fascinated by the girl’s beauty, it can be said that she awakened in him a seemingly extinct feeling of love, which manifested itself in a change in the bishop’s lifestyle. At sunrise he gets up and perceives the hitherto unseen beauty of the landscape and longs for the virgin’s arrival. It all ends abruptly when Lissote tells him that she will not come to him again, because she is engaged and to be married.

The first motif developed by the film short story is a motif known, for example, from the paintings of the mannerist Bartholomeus Spranger, who worked at the Prague court of the Emperor Rudolf II, and used the figures of Greek and Roman mythology to create his motif. The motif shows an aging man in the company of a young woman whose vitality and youth are to reverse the inevitability of this aging. The second motif lies in his becoming aware of his sexual and gender identity. At some point in her life, Lissote comes to no longer see men as people, but rather as another sex attractive to her. She talks about a beautiful robber, who was allegedly hanged for nothing at the gate. She enthusiastically describes his eyes and defends his deeds, obviously proving that she was not indifferent to him. The awakening of the feeling of love in the body of a girl who, though, is now becoming a woman, should be understood as an inverse complement to the bishop’s false rebirth of youth. Lissote is quietly maturing and discovers something naturally related to biologically conditioned sexuality. In contrast to this, the bishop wants to revive what has irreversibly passed away. When Lissote informs him that she will no longer bring flour to the Pope, the bishop once more wakes up with back pain and other ailments characteristic of old age.

            The second film short story Annalena alebo poludnie (Annalena or Noon) is an adaptation of the novella Annalena (1927), which narrates the story of a young woman and her two suitors. The first is Bartolomeo Orlandi, a successful young man in the service of Florence. He becomes engaged to the beautiful Annalena, whom he saw naked before their engagement. Annalena was bathing in the lake he was passing by. She felt humiliated as she was standing defencelessly naked in the water, exposed to the eyes of an unwelcome witness, and never forgot it. But higher interests determined her engagement, and Bartolomeo introduced to his fiancée his friend Baldoccio, a soldier who had saved his life in battle. Baldoccio doesn’t like talking about this event because he views helping a friend as a natural thing. Annalene is impressed by Baldoccio’s modesty, she falls in love with him, Baldoccio reciprocates her love and they secretly keep meeting. People of Florence know of their meetings, as does also Cosimo Medici, who wishes to seize power over the city. Medici is also aware that Baldoccio is respected by soldiers, he is considered to be an honest and devoted soldier. He views him as an obstacle to his power ambitions. He does not want to face him directly and therefore for his power games decides to use Bartolomeo’s jealousy. He provokes him and Bartolomeo kills Baldoccio in a fit of jealousy just as he is leaving Annalena. In this way Medici got rid of both Baldoccio and Bartholomeo, as passion prevailed over reason in his actions. Medici has on mind a Machiavellian reason capable of rationally justifying any immoral act.

            The second story shows a mature passionate love, which prevails despite the adversity of fate. Love keeps the lovers in its bounds, makes them blind and deaf, stops them from behaving rationally, and thereby exposes them to danger, even death.

            The last film short story Lauretta alebo súmrak (Lauretta or Dusk) is an adaptation of the novella V čom je radosť života (What is the Joy of Life?) (1931). It depicts the story of the sinful love between Lauretta and Sicco Bonatti. Sicco was married, had children, and respected his wife, even loved her. However, he could not resist the seduction of the beautiful Lauretta. Her father and brother knew about their love affair, and because of it wanted to kill Sicco at all costs. Lauretta left for a family villa in San Stefan, where she continued to meet Sicco and indulge in their sinful love. She knew that Sicco would never leave his wife, so she decided to tie him to her. She gets infected with leprosy and also infects Sicco with this disease. By law, they must leave for a leprosy hospital where lepers are isolated together. They could not go out until after dark, and the ringing warned the healthy in time to avoid them. Sicco lost his wife and children, Lauretta lost her wealth and status, but she perceived the loss as a gain, since when they were freed from obligations, wealth and status, they had gained the pleasure to be together forever and make love. Sicco agrees, but he would rather live with all the losses and wins. Their love is followed by a threateningly approaching death, a reminder of the temporality of life.

            This triptych can be considered to be Luther’s most minimalist work. Each of the three film short stories has a few characters; the stories have almost no motionless characters. What is clearly to be appreciated is the fine-art side of the film, in particular in the second and third short stories. It is truly difficult to shoot Florentine interiors and exteriors in Czechoslovakia, with a minimum budget; nevertheless Luther succeeded magnificently. This was possible not only thanks to the choice of locations (the films were made, for example, at the castle in Telč in South Bohemia), the sensitive cameraman’s work by Dodo Šimončič, but also thanks to the admirable period costumes of the costume designer Milan Čorba. For example, in his short story What is the Joy of Life? Jégé makes reference to the Italian painters Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio or Sandro Botticelli, and it is clear that Čorba was inspired by the portraits of these Renaissance masters. The costumes, together with the masks, contribute to the creation of the illusion of the Renaissance world, better said they comply with the images the contemporaries have about the Renaissance, which are co-created with the aid of the world of Renaissance paintings.

The Old Beekeeper

After his Triptych on Love, in 1981 Luther began making a television film Old Beekeeper. Once more it is a free adaptation of the short story of the same title by Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, transformed into a screenplay by Anna Hollá and Jozef Beňovský.

            The Old Beekeeper gives us the story of a painful rotation of generations. The oldest generation is represented by an old beekeeper and his wife, the middle generation by their son and wife, the youngest by their grandson. The old beekeeper is a man of tradition. He honours it; in his understanding tradition is something sacred, something that gives order to the world. Just as God posed order upon nature, and which must be honoured and respected by a man, so the tradition embodied in habits and customs gives order to society. Perhaps it may be said more accurately that in the old beekeeper’s understanding, nature and society are governed by the same law, order, and this view is strongly backed up by his relationship with bees. For the beekeeper, bees are not just useful insects, they are a partner. In the spring, he carefully awakens them by rapping on their hives, sees whether the bee colony has survived, and moves the hive, in which no bee movement is heard, to a warm room. Patiently he waits and when the swarm finally wakes up, he prepares their first “meal” to sate them, make them stronger and able to fly out into nature to collect nectar for honey. The beekeeper understands their annual cycle, repeating on a regular basis, and respects it, because he deems it to be an organic component of himself. Just as the life of bees is determined by the alternation of seasons, so is the life of a farmer. A farmer must adjust to it, he must endure the vagaries of nature, rejoice at a good harvest or humbly, patiently endure crop failure. He knows that everything he has is due to his hard work.

            The beekeeper’s opposite is his son. It would be unfair to say that he avoids work; rather he is trying to make it easier and more efficient. The son believes that the harnessed oxen are cumbersome, slow and inefficient. That if working with a horse, the work can be done easier and faster. The son urges the father to sell the oxen and buy a horse. But the father doesn’t even want to hear about it. One day, against the father’s will, the son decides to act resolutely, and without his father’s consent he sells the oxen and buys a horse. When the father sees the horse in the stable, his whole world collapses. He does not see the exchange of a horse for oxen as a way of making work more efficient, but as a deep and irreversible schism in the sacred order. In the old beekeeper’s world, the son is to obey his father unconditionally, just as he obeyed his own father. As long as the father lives, he is the head of the family and the family must follow him without defiance. This is the law of the tradition and the tradition must not be freely opposed. At the moment when the son stands up in opposition to his father, the world loses its order and falls into chaos. The beekeeper recognises his defeat and leaves the family for the apiary. The family finds him in the apiary and takes the patient home. Physically, but especially mentally, broken, the beekeeper lies down in his bed and dies as a result of a cold. His death symbolically concludes one era and a new era begins, with no one knowing whether the next one will be better or worse than the previous. The son is convinced that it will be better, while his father saw in it the beginning of the end, at least the beginning of the end of his family.

            Interesting characters in the story are the beekeeper’s wife and grandson. The wife embodies the type of woman who, though understanding her son’s needs and comprehending the rational core of the proposal to exchange oxen for horses, she never opposes her husband. In her old world, the woman must always obey her husband and follow him in good and bad. In her understanding, the man is hierarchically superior to the woman, as is preached by the Scripture, and to go against it is impossible. Her role is to take care of the family and the household. Like her husband, she honours tradition, and which always takes precedence over personal interests or private desires. While the beekeeper’s relationship to traditions is depicted through an illustrative example of his relationship to bees, his wife’s relationship to tradition is suggestively shown on the scene of her husband’s death. When the man takes his last breath, she closes his eyes, crosses his arms across his chest, covers the mirror, and opens the window so that his soul can leave the room. It is a ritual, repeated from time immemorial every time someone dies. The ritual of death is presented realistically, we could even say so precisely that this film depiction could serve as a pictorial example of the posthumous ritual in an ethnology-themed lecture. Viewers could see, for the first time in the history of Slovak cinema, a realistically filmed funeral, capable of evoking an illusion seen as a fact, already in the film by Juraj Jakubisko Kristove roky (Christ’s Years) (1967); Luther’s scene does not fall short of the realistic depiction of the scene from the Jakubisko’s film.

            The character of the grandson acts as a mediator in this story. On the one hand, he is fascinated by the wise words of his grandfather, his knowledge of the life of bees, the organisation of their social life, their needs and how to treat them. These words had an effect of letting him in on a secret that will allow him to become part of the world of bees, to be their partner. On the other hand, he welcomes his father’s decision to swap oxen for horses, because the farmer in the next field has a horse and ploughing is much easier with a horse than when his grandfather and father plough with cumbersome, clumsy oxen. Last but not least, in his child’s eyes, a horse is a much more beautiful animal than an ox.

            As mentioned at the outset, the author of the original book was considered by literary historians to be a representative of realism and naturalism; Luther tried to translate the literary style of the original into his film adaptation, which is very close to realism. His version of the realistic illusion is made up not only of the composition and content of the individual moving images, that is, of what they represent, but also of the editing, rhythm and music. The editing does not draw attention to itself, it is featureless. It humbly serves the images by subtly combining them into a traditionally constructed story. The rhythm of the film supports a cyclical understanding of the time derived from the cyclical repetition of natural processes. In the spring, nature awakens, summer is a season of flowering, autumn is the time of harvest, and winter represents a temporary death, which ends in spring with a re-awakening of nature. Time repeats itself, so everything in the old beekeeper world’s is predictable until a moment which, according to the thinking of Yuri Lotman, can be viewed as the event of an explosion, because it breaks the cyclic nature and establishes linearity.[2] The replacement of oxen with a horse represents an intrusion into the established order, the horse bring on the innovation, not the new thing, but the new thing of a different kind, and the beekeeper is afraid of what this innovation might cause. He merely suspects that this explosion sent his old world irreversibly into the past, and perhaps it would have sent himself into eternal oblivion if the traces of him had not been preserved in his grandson’s memory. The rhythm of the film is significantly aided by the music of the Slovak composer Svetozár Štúr. An important source of his musical expression is folklore, and this is what enabled him to compose music that interestingly arranges moving images into a rhythm and also participates in the realistic sound of the film narrative as a whole. It seems that the cinematographer Dodo Šimončič tried to keep the realistic diction of the film as much as possible, and therefore avoided more fundamental innovations; his images ethnologically imitate the features of the departing old world and ever so more emphasise its gloomy atmosphere and conflict, quite inconspicuous to the viewer’s eye, though crucial in terms of the relationship between the old beekeeper and his son.

A Life without End

František Švantner’s novel Život bez konca (A Life without End) deserves an important place in the history of Slovak literature and it was only a matter of time before someone tried to adapt this novel into a film. Ján Števček was the first and so far the last to try, as he had at least two reasons to take this step. The first reason is supremely private, Švantner and Števček are connected through a village on the southern side of the Low Tatras. The village is Mýto pod Ďumbierom, where Švantner worked as a village teacher from 1933 to 1940. Ján Števček was born in the same village in 1929 and Švantner was his teacher. It can be assumed that the close relationship between the student and the teacher acted as an important impulse and perhaps this impulse made Števček to pay attention to literature, including the literary work of someone who was first his village teacher and later a famous Slovak writer.

The second reason is that Števček knew Švantner’s literary work in detail, as evidenced by his first monograph Baladická próza Františka Švantnera (František Švantner’s Ballad Prose) published in 1962; to this day, other historians and theorists of literature consider him one of the most in-depth experts in Švantner’s work. It is natural that his interest in Švantner’s work culminates in the transformation of the novel Život bez konca (A Life without End) into a film work. Števček, as a literary, historian was aware that any attempt to create a faithful adaptation of the novel A Life without End means an attempt doomed to failure, and therefore he decided to use only some of the novel’s motifs and did not even hesitate to make a few deviations, which will be mentioned in conclusion of this section. The five-part television series of the same name is framed by the first two sentences of the novel, voiced by an anonymous narrator at the beginning and end of the series: “What is life? – Hard to say!”[3]

These two short sentences are then supplemented by a paraphrase, which extracts from the other sentences of the third paragraph from the beginning of the novel one, according to the author of the screenplay, an essential idea: “It carries us and we don’t know where to. It has no end at all.” To know why the idea is important, we quote the first four paragraphs of the novel.

“What is life?

Hard to say!

All we know is that it is in us and we are in it. It resembles a river without beginning or end. It flows through space without rest as powerfully and unstoppably as it flew through paradise or Calvary, it has no basin, no measurements, it follows its own laws, creating on its way wonderful shapes, which not only fill the content of this world, but also give it the most essential meaning.

A man is only a speck in it, which suddenly emerges from the depths to the surface, perhaps caught up in a vortex, floating once in a more powerful, other times in a weaker current, ascending, diving, twisting through the curves and bends, jumping over rapids and again all of a sudden falling back into the dark depths.”[4]

Literary scholar Peter Zajac in his interpretation of a novel called Román tkaniva (Novel of Tissue) considers this paragraph to be the narrative framework of the work.[5] We are convinced that this quote can also serve as one of the interpretive keys of both the novel and the series. Likewise, we dare to note that most representatives of vitalism could agree with these four paragraphs without serious reservation. On the one hand, people live their lives, on the other hand, lives are more than just what is tied to each of individuals. People are born and die, life persists, which is why the model author compares the life inside the text of the novel to a river without beginnings and ends, while this river is governed by immanent laws. A man as an individual is a swimmer in a river. He wishes to cross the river from one bank to the other, but the current of the river or the eddies pull on him and carry him off in another direction. At one time he is swimming through paradise, at other times via Calvary, but no one knows the point toward which he is actually swimming, as the banks keep escaping him whenever the swimmer thinks he is within their reach.

The main character of the story is Paulínka and the novel depicts her life’s fates. To avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, we must say that the TV series only shows the torso of her life. Her story begins in the summer of 1913 and ends in the summer of 1920, so the story lasts only seven years. The setting of specific time data and the location of the story in the mountain landscape of central Slovakia can be understood as specific time and geographical indices, which in an inconspicuous, and for that ever more intense, way confirm for the viewer that what he sees should not be understood and evaluated as fiction, but should be considered to be the world itself.

Paulínka enters the scene of the story at the time of her adolescence, at the beginning of the story we see her in an innocent play with her childhood friend Tóno. It is obvious that Tóno likes Paulínka, it is obvious that he is platonically in love with her, but he knows that Paulínka and he come from different social classes and her parents would never agree to her marrying him.

Several men enter and exit Paulínka’s flow of life, each of them in such a way that at one time she is flowing through paradise, at another time she is swimming through Calvary. Truth be told, the journey through paradise always takes a very brief time and must be paid for with a long, painful journey through Calvary. Even before she personally experiences that strange twinkling between a woman and a man, her parents send her to the city to her godmother Elvíra to learn higher class mores. Elvíra used to be a prostitute and is saved from the whirlwind of life that pulls her to the bottom of society by the wealthy Colonel Fazekas. But Elvíra is not satisfied to live the life of an obedient wife, so she finds a lover who gives her physical pleasure. The lover is Pišta, ergo doorman, butler, coachman, in short a boy for everything. The colonel cannot come to terms with Elvíra’s adultery, and in rage he shoots her and immediately commits suicide.

After her death, Paulínka returns to her home village, where she meets the first man, the local post office clerk Ervín Tóth. He is persistently interested in her, courting her clumsily, which is most evident at the recruits’ ball dance. He is unable to take the opportunity, his behaviour embarrasses Paulínka and she is saved from the awkward situation by another suitor János Alpár. In Paulínka’s eyes, this man is a man with a secret. From the first moment, she is impressed by Alpár’s enchanting look, gallantry and the attention he pays to her. He seems like a gentleman to her. It can be said that it was love at first sight for her, though then she still refused to admit it. Alpár’s interest in Paulínka irritates Ervín so much that he gets drunk during the ball and the new cavalier takes care of her. After a beautiful night spent in total modesty, Alpár disappears from Paulínka’s life for a long time so that he can re-enter it later.

Another turning point in the story is the arrival of a new village teacher, Nándor Lang, an order-loving and strict man, but at the same time a measured and snobbish man. Besides this, “Hungarianness” prevents him from becoming more integrated into the community’s life. He remains a foreigner and Paulínka’s family becomes the only mediator between him and the villagers. After the outbreak of the World War I, he is enlisted, but at the last moment he manages to ask for Paulínka’s hand in marriage. For her parents he is a good choice; they quickly get married in front of the notary and Lang leaves with the army. The wedding night is postponed until later. The direct communication that was until then very economical is replaced by written letters. The jilted Ervín wants to take advantage of Lang’s departure. After multiple twists, he seduces her and gets her pregnant. By an unfortunate accident he dies, as does Lang on the front, who thus never learns of her infidelity and child.

Once the war is over, another man appears in Paulínka’s life. Soldiers of the Czechoslovak army arrive at the village to suppress the Hungarian rebellion. An attractive Czech officer with Slovak roots starts to court her. However, he also dies after he gets into a conflict with Alpár, who is captured in a group of Hungarian soldiers. After the army leaves, Alpár returns to the village and asks Paulínka for her hand in marriage. Her father does not give his consent; he considers Alpár an ordinary loafer, impostor and adventurer, but Paulínka’s wheelchair-bound mother Hermína consents to the marriage. Hermína wants her daughter to find the happiness her life has denied her. When Alpár learns about the illegitimate child at the wedding, his great ego is humiliated and this humiliation has far-reaching consequences for Paulínka. They move to the city, but her new life does not bring her good luck. After Alpár’s frauds and a conflict with the police, Paulínka, after years, once again accompanied by Tóno, her childhood friend and currently a war veteran returning from Russian captivity, gets back home to her mother, where she also finds her daughter Betka.

The flow of Pauline’s life has been changed by the flow of lives of four men, of whom only Tóno played honourably. Although Lang loved Paulínka, she could not form a relationship with him, although paradoxically they understood each other best when they were just writing. As if they were both able to entrust to the scriptures what they could not say directly to each other. Although Ervín loved Paulínka, he could not get her, and he abused her loneliness and sadness. He knew about her situation and yet he committed a shabby act. The most complicated man in Paulínka’s life is Alpár. He was a man without morals, his actions are governed by boundless egoism, he enjoys life to the fullest, he is not bothered by his past, and he refuses to deal with the future. The only thing that is important to him are the possibilities offered to him by the present. Paulínka knows that he viciously killed a Czech officer; Alpár, on the other hand, feels infinitely humiliated by learning about an illegitimate child at his wedding.

Three of the four men in Paulínka’s life are foreigners. All three come to the village, but remain a foreign element in it; the villagers do not accept them among themselves, and due to their social status or different language the villagers consider them to be a threat to their traditional order. Paulínka stands in contrast to them. Aside from a few happy moments, her life has been one of suffering. At first she is a witness to how sins of the past deform human lives in the present, and later she repeatedly experiences this cruel truth first-hand. She wants to defy the flow of life, but the current pulls her along and carries her away from the goal she originally wanted to achieve. Her life flows unpredictably and gradually the hope fades from the horizon that she could ever have life completely under control. Life is confronted with death, with death not only coming unexpectedly, but often occurring when it is least expected.

The novel expresses the presence of existential dimension from the beginning to the end of the plot, forming, according to Zajac, the inner framework of the novel;[6] the novel is characterised by “a constant tension between the infinite cosmic flow of life and the necessity of individual human death, a tension between a vitalistic framework with an existentialistic interior. This tension is inherent in the novel. However, it does not take the form of an insurmountable contradiction, but of mutual interferences, interconnections, penetrations, overlaps and fusions. The outcome is existential imagination [a concept by Jaroslav Papoušek; added by P.M./P.D.], amalgamating a full range of different modalities of relationships between the two frameworks.”[7]  The same applies unreservedly mutatis mutandis to the film adaptation, and thanks to the constant tension between the two frames, the film did not become a cheap story of love and unhappiness.

The filmmakers worked in an interesting way with the village/city contrast. Usually, the village environment is associated with nature, as even this Central Slovak village is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The city, in turn, is associated with civilisation and modernity, which, however, bring not only progress, but also suffering and the breakdown of morality. Series A Life without End shows a different image of the village. Its inhabitants revel in alcohol more than is tolerable, broken relationships in families come to the fore. At the beginning of the story, the city represents a dream paradise for Paulínka, she longs to move to there and live a pleasant life of a city lady. Even her father wants to leave the village, he wants to own a rental house that would earn him a living and he would enjoy a peaceful autumn of life. However, when they get to the city, their desires dissipate. Neither the village nor the city are ideal places to live, but probably there is no such place, people must come to terms with this fact and live their miserable lives to the end.

At the beginning of this section we mentioned that the author of the screenplay adheres to the basic diction of the novel, though in some places he deviates significantly from it. Many of the novel’s supporting characters do not appear in the film, and the choice of film locations is considerably narrowed and includes a much shorter duration of Paulínka’s life story. These are important deviations, including those that change the fabula. Among other things, the novella’s fabula is based on Alpár’s leaving for Budapest with Paulínka. Alpár later abandons Paulínka and returns together with her daughter to a town, where they were accidentally shot during a demonstration by factory workers. In the film, Alpár elopes with his mistress Ema to an unspecified metropolitan city in the west.

Despite these significant deviations, the TV series A Life without End is undoubtedly one of the best that were created in the framework of television production during the socialist normalisation period. The creators avoided unnecessary ideologization, ignored the principle of political partisanship or class identity, their characters are not dragged or guided by the objective laws of the development of society, but are people in the stream of life and life is in them. For this reason the main characters of the series can be deemed dynamic and plastic, of which there are not many in Slovak cinematography.


Our aim was to present three film adaptations of three literary works. The author of the first two literary works is Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, the author of the third work is František Švantner. Both authors rank among the classics of Slovak literature, which naturally places great demands on the creators of film adaptations. Despite all the pitfalls, they grasped the literary masterpiece in a way that, even years after the film adaptations, gives rise to well-deserved admiration and respect. One of the prerequisites for a successful film adaptation is an understanding, figuratively speaking, not only of the literal meaning of the text, but also of the spirit of the text. Understanding the meaning of the text is not enough, as slavish adherence to the original would subordinate the film narrative too much to the word and push the image to the sidelines. Understanding the spirit, i.e. the deeper meaning of the literary text, allows for freer work with the original to the benefit of pictorial representation of the plot, which is not to say anything else, but that the film adaptation must respect the literary model on the one hand, but on the other hand it must take into account the specifics of film as a medium. This study was created as part of the grant project Artwork: Mediality, Rules of Art and Interpretation (VEGA no. 1/0541/20).

[1] All three were published in the ensemble Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, Writings III – Wieniawski’s legend. Bratislava: Tatran 1980.

[2] Yuri M. Lotman, Culture and Explosion. Brno: Host 2013, p. 19.

[3] František Švantner, A Life without End. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ 1963, p. 7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Peter Zajac, Novel of Tissue. František Švantner: A Life without End. In: Peter Zajac (ed.),Sondy. Interpretations of key works of Slovak 20th century literature. Bratislava: Kalligram 2007, pp. 286–313.

[6] Ibid., 289.

[7] Ibid. For the concept of “existential imagination” see Jaroslav Papoušek, Existentialists. Existential Phenomena in Czech Prose of the 20th Century. Prague: Torst 2004, p. 15.