A Hidden Figure of the Czechoslovak New Wave Takes the Spotlight

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Apr 19, 2019


From the panicked gasp of its opening scene—in which two boys flee from a concentration-camp transport, the camera seeming to race with them across the grubby landscape—Jan Němec’s 1964 Diamonds of the Night burrows deep into its protagonists’ struggle for survival in the wilderness, staying close to their often-hallucinatory points of view. The remarkably stripped-down subjectivity of Němec’s feature debut was the result of a close collaborative effort, with the enfant terrible relying on input from a number of crew members who, like him, soon became important figures in the Czechoslovak New Wave. In the above clip, taken from a supplement on our new edition of the movie, programmer and Němec expert Irena Kovarova details the contributions of one of those key collaborators: costume designer Ester Krumbachová. As Kovarova explains here, the timeless, tattered clothes chosen by Krumbachová were instrumental in defining the austere look of the film, on which she also came to serve as a de facto script adviser. A bright future lay ahead for her: Krumbachová would go on to contribute to the screenplay of Věra Chytilová’s anarchic Daisies (1966), as well as cowrite the next two features by Němec, to whom she was also married for much of the sixties. While her contributions have mostly gone unsung, the essential figure of Czechoslovak cinema will finally be getting her due in a tribute that the Film Society of Lincoln Center just announced this week, starting May 24 and featuring ten highlights from her career.