KVIFF Classics Kick-Off

Jitka Cerhová in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966)

For a series of ten perennials screening in Prague—either in English or with English subtitles—Věra Chytilová’s homegrown Daisies (1966) is a prime opening night selection. The inaugural three-day edition of KVIFF Classics, presented by the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the National Film Archive, will kick off on December 1 with the film that “should be considered as among the quintessential performative artworks of its time,” as J. Hoberman wrote in the April 2019 issue of Artforum. Daisies “belongs to an international aesthetic vanguard representing the mid-’60s confluence of underground movies, Happenings, street theater, and feminist body art”—and yet the “eternal present of the film has scarcely dated.”

A few months further into 2019, the BBC polled 368 film critics, programmers, and academics to come up with a list of the hundred best films directed by women. Daisies, which tracks the joyfully rude and anarchic pranks of two young women named Marie, came in at #6. “Today,” wrote Carmen Gray here in the Current just a couple of weeks ago, “more than a half century on, the film has lost none of its incendiary force.”

Martin Scorsese turns eighty today, and KVIFF Classics will salute him with a screening of The King of Comedy, a film whose own fortieth birthday will roll around on December 18. There will also be a seventieth-anniversary screening of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s beloved musical Singin’ in the Rain, and the programmers will pay tribute to the late Jean-Luc Godard with a screening of 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967). “If any film deserves a book-length exegesis, it is this one,” wrote Amy Taubin in 2009 before quoting Godard himself: “I wanted to include everything: sports, politics, even groceries. Everything should be put in a film.”

More famously, Godard also once said that “the cinema is Nicholas Ray.” Godard put Ray’s Bitter Victory, starring Richard Burton and Curt Jürgens as British Army officers sent out on a commando raid in North Africa, on his list of the ten best films of 1957. “In my brain, I keep Godard and Buñuel in the same space,” wrote filmmaker and actor Amy Seimetz when she included Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour (1967) in her list of top ten Criterion releases. On Isabel Sandoval’s list we find Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002): “I just enjoy seeing a director break rules over and over again and take risks that could have ended in him falling flat on his face and yet, somehow, he soars.”

The program naturally includes a few meat-and-potatoes selections. “For me and for many other directors of my generation,” wrote Scorsese in 2013, John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) “was a touchstone.” Writing about Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) in 2006, Alexander Sesonske noted that while the film “lacks the intellectual challenge of Rashomon, the moral resonance of Ikiru, or the sweep and grandeur of Seven Samurai, it became Kurosawa’s most successful film in Japan and his most influential in the West. It also spawned a whole new genre and a major film career in 1964 when Sergio Leone copied it almost shot for shot in the first ‘spaghetti’ Western, A Fistful of Dollars, with Clint Eastwood in [Toshiro] Mifune’s role.”

And then there’s Luchino Visconti’s four-hour biopic Ludwig (1973), starring Helmut Berger as the Bavarian king, Romy Schneider as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and Trevor Howard as Richard Wagner. It’s “a film rooted in reality but whose lushness and fluidity lend it the fleeting, diaphanous air of a dying man’s daydream,” wrote Greg Cwik in the Notebook in 2018. “Ludwig is too human to be a king. He is lonely, repressed; he believes in the rejuvenating power of music. He never had a chance.”

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