The consequences of ‘normalisation’ on the Slovak film arts

The first steps on the road to the restoration of political power in film were the cancellation of the creative production groups, the reimposition of censorship and the centralisation of ‘content supervision’. The abolition of independent art unions in the field of film, theatre, radio and television and a working ban on several film directors followed.
A number of Slovak film makers emigrated (Stanislav Barabáš, Ján Kadár, Igor Luther, Karol Skřipský). Although some directors (Štefan Uher, Martin Hollý and others) could continue making films, several of their films from the 1960s were banned. The Ministry of Culture established a special commission for these purposes, which in late 1969 and early 1970 looked at all the Slovak films produced during the previous period and proposed a ban on any future public screenings. This ban was upheld until 1989.
Ideologically ‘well-proven’ themes or ‘neutral’ genres popular with the spectators now once more came to the fore. Most prominent were the themes of war and the Slovak National Uprising, now showcased in illustrative epic films modelled on the Soviet film. Only a few works succeeded in standing out from the schematic illustration of politically-prominent themes. Instead of depicting lifeless characters or events, films such as Štefan Uher’s Keby som mal pušku (‘If I Had a Gun’, 1971), Ján Lacko’s Človek na moste (‘Man on the Bridge’, 1972) and Vladislav Pavlovič’s Trofej neznámeho strelca (‘The Unknown Hunter’s Trophy’, 1974) focused on individual dramatic characters and thus depicted the effect of the war on the life, behaviour and relationships between individuals. However, not until the second half of the 1980s could deviation from superficial ideologising towards a more creative use of the historical context be manifested more distinctively in films such as Juraj Herz’s Zastihla ma noc (‘Caught in the Night’, 1985), Martin Ťapák’s Kohút nezaspieva (‘Until the Cock Crows’, 1986) and Miloslav Luther’s Chodník cez Dunaj (‘A Path Across the Danube’, 1989).
Another thematic focus in the feature films of this period was the orientation towards the ‘realistic’ depiction of the present. The earliest example was Jozef Režucha’s Dosť dobrí chlapi (‘Quite a Good Team’, 1971), which won several normalisation awards, adumbrating the trend of ‘commitment’ in the cinematic depiction of contemporary reality. This was manifested in the politically non-confrontational depiction of themes from some areas of social and working life and an emphasis on the ‘correct’ civic and social attitudes of the main characters. The space for social criticism was minimal. Sporadic exceptions were punished by the banning of themes, by an order to re-make a film or by consigning a completed work to the vault.
This was also the fate of the film which director Juraj Jakubisko returned to after 10 years – Postav dom, zasaď strom (‘Build a House, Plant a Tree’, 1979). Recounting the story of a man who used the shortcomings of the social system of that time for his personal benefit, it had a definite sense of social critique. Even the remade final version of the film was subjected to crushing criticism in the Communist Party daily newspapers and was withdrawn from distribution.
Dušan Hanák’s Ja milujem, ty miluješ (‘I Love, You Love’, 1980, with a screenplay co-authored by Dušan Dušek) was likewise designated by the authorities as a work intentionally focused on people from the social periphery with the sole purpose of ridiculing the whole of society through them. Hanák’s tragicomedy about the emotional world of a bachelor, exceptional from the point of view of both film-making and content, only made its way into cinemas after 1989 and went on to win a number of international awards, including the Silver Bear for direction and a special FIPRESCI Award at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival. Hanák’s earlier film Ružové sny (‘Pink Dreams’, 1976) which he also made in co-operation with writer and screenwriter Dušan Dušek, became the only politically-tolerated film that was popular with audiences yet did not give in to the period opportunism in the depiction of reality in the 1970s. The story about the relationship between postman Jakub (Juraj Nvota) and young Gypsy girl Jolanka (Iva Bittová) focuses on the impossibility of joining different worlds, mentalities and cultures, even through the pure and spontaneous love of two young people. This colourful, lyrical tragicomedy became one of the most distinctive films of the grey period of the 1970s.