Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 3
 Issue 9 
15 Sept
2003

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Karel Kachyna's Uz zase skacu pres kaluze (I'm Jumping Over Puddles Again, 1970) CZECH REPUBLIC
The sentimental world of children
Karel Kachyňa's Už zase skáču přes kaluže (I'm Jumping Over Puddles Again, 1970)

Throughout his career, Kachyňa made films that took up that perspective of young people. Dora Viceníková analyses how the director used this theme to sentimental effect in one of his post-1960s films.


The dominant thematic line in Kachyňa's film production is an observation of the inner feelings of young, but mature people. The auteur started this exploration at the beginning of the 1960s and continued it in the following decades, never completely leaving it. Generally, he has been fascinated by youth—indomitable, affectionate, explosive youth. But also he is interested in youth that is often in conflict with the world of adults, which takes away their first dreams and yearnings in a drastic and merciless way.

The film portrayals of the child as a hero in Czech film was very sporadic at the beginning of 1960s. The nascent "New Wave" portrayed young heroes who compare their conceptualisation of the world with reality, their desires with opportunities, and their dreams with the mundanity of everyday life. But they were older figures. They had just started to integrate into society and could be seen as alter egos of the directors. Kachyňa was interested in the conflict of children that is not situated on the level of individual and society, as it is in other films of the Czech New Wave, but individual and family. In addition, Kachyňa does not identify with the main protagonist. It is more a sentimental return to childhood, which he portrays as a pure and unblemished period of life.

At the beginning of his golden epoch in the second half of 1960s, he made his best film on the theme of youth, Ať žije republika (Long Live the Republic!, 1965). It shows is a rough world, where a little boy has to survive, and it is the cruelty of a world at war and free from love that banishes the boy's innocence.

Returning to the theme of youth five years later in Už zase skáču přes kaluže (I'm Jumping Over Puddles Again, 1970), Kachyňa created an implausibly stylised young hero, in opposition to Ať žije republika!, in which he had eschewed this device.

Subjective point of view

The title of the film Už zase skáču přes kaluže (I'm Jumping Over Puddles Again, 1970) in first person singular reveals the resolution of the plot, just as Robert Bresson's Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (A Man Escaped, 1956) does. But the plot itself, which could be summarized in just one sentence as a story about a boy who became paralysed but managed to "jump over puddles again" (as a metaphor for the boy's ability to ride horses even with his handicap), is not that important. Karel Kachyna's Uz zase skacu pres kaluze (I'm Jumping Over Puddles Again, 1970)The accent is mostly on the emotional impact of the film, which is based on an autobiographical novel I Can Jump Puddles written in the 1950s by the Australian writer Alan Marshall.

Tzvetan Todorov divides narratives into two spheres: when the protagonist is dominant, then it is psychological narrative, and when the plot dominates then it is non-psychological narrative. Here the plot quite subordinated to the hero, and only he is the subject of an observation. The point of view of the child is crucial, but exceptionally is followed by generalizing judgements of the grown-up author. The identification of author with the character is obvious in the book, especially as the boy has his name—Alan Marshall.

The film keeps this first person singular perspective—the point of view of the boy—and Kachyňa passes by the opportunity of making a disinterested account of the character's story. The first shots that follow the birth of main protagonist—here named Adam (Vladimír Dlouhý)—are overlaid with his voice as an omniscient narrator. It brings to the plot an element of retrospection that does not further develop. From the moment Adam comes in the picture, he does not leave it. He is a permanent part of every take. At the beginning he does not speak at all; he is only a mute observer. The outside world has to demonstrate itself that much more. The subjectivity of the story, already multiplied by seeing the world through his eyes, is further emphasized by shots of little stained glass windows and his toys and dreamy sequences. When he is delirious in fevers, hallucinations and fanciful visions appear.

According to the impersonal, uninterested view, the story talks about a horrific illness and the strong will needed to overcome it. From the perspective of Adam, it is about the fulfilment of one big dream—to ride horses—in spite of apparently insurmountable barriers to it. The character of Adam is differentiated from the others by the position of the storyteller. He is partly separated from the plot; he is a reflector, which illuminates the other figures. In other words, we perceive through his eyes the rest of world and other characters in it. The action of others is reduced in favour of Adam.

Secondary figures

Kachyňa's adaptation creates an idyllic Czech-Australian local flavor: a dusty long road between boundless paddocks looks as if it should lead to huge ranch, but instead, we enter to a quaint Moravian building.

Apart from his drinking, the father (Karel Hlušička) represents the boy's ideal model. He stays similarly indomitable as his wild horses (the taste for spirits is actually a part of wildness), his cap makes him different from the others who are mostly petty bourgeois. The father keeps a secret conspiracy with his son against his solicitous mother (Zdena Hadrbolcová). She is almost a kitsch picture of a provincial good woman. Father fearlessly tames the horses, while the mother cares about hen. But at the critical moment of danger, when she defends son against a furious young blacksmith, she shows her courage. As a weapon against enemy, she takes something almost symbolic of her womanhood (but which is sufficiently dangerous)—a big pot full of boiling water.

The young blacksmith fills, according to Propp's definition of spheres of figures' action, two functions: he acts as a villain and later quite different as a helper. Firstly, in Adam's eyes he embodies revenge on behalf of Adam's bad behaving, and when Adam gets ill then he starts to be good to him. All attributes of the characters are immediately causal—when they appear they cause an action immediately. The distance between psychological line and action is minimal: somebody says that the father was a drunkard, and then we see him completely drunk in a pub. The young blacksmith intimidates children; in order to it, he furiously wants to punish Adam.

Film references

In Už zase skáču přes kaluže, we can find similarities with Kachyňa's previous films Trápení (Suffering, 1962) and Vysoká zeď (The High Wall, 1964). The similarities are in the details and in the generalities, such as the theme, as well. The film Trápení tells a story about a mature child, who sets aside a collective. While Lenka's (Jorga Kotrbová) relationship with a horse was formed through love and sympathy in Trápení, for Adam riding a horse is a synonym for entrance into the sphere of adults. Lenka comes to the horse through a gentle approach; Adam wants to tame the horse, to win over him.

In addition, in this basic and rough differentiation we can see the diametric disparity between the two films—the first represents an introverted, fragile film, which is based on gentle symbols. Už zase skáču přes kaluže leaves this sensitivity and uses rougher elements of standardization. The figures represent more types then characters. The gentle differentiation of black and white in Trápení, here becomes a colour scheme, with colours accentuating the almost cheesy idyll of a village. We could simply say that Trápení puts the emphasis on a detail, while Už zase skáču přes kaluže stresses more the entity of the film. Still the director does not give up the aesthetics of image, he interrupts the linear story with dramatic content by poetic shots—a falling feather, flowering sunflowers, abundant fields, the open sky. But these shots don't create a special atmosphere as they do in Trápení, and sometimes seem almost artificial.

The element of handicapped man is common to films Už zase skáču přes kaluže and Vysoká zeď. The auteur again shows very didactically the difference between the world of the healthy and the others who are handicapped and therefore isolated. A high wall surrounds these others. A boy who throws sweets to Adam in his wheelchair from above has his model already in Vysoká zeď in the character of a mature girl. This slightly pathetic and sentimental situation is in Už zase skáču přes kaluže just one episode among many, while in Vysoká zeď it is a single event that is the basis of the whole film.

Conclusion

Už zase skáču přes kaluže idyllically depicts the situation in the Moravian countryside at the turn of century, similarly to the film Páni kluci (Mr Boys, 1975) directed by Věra Šimková-Plívová, which is situated in a small town around the year 1900. Nostalgia gently blows from both films, but in Kachyňa's case it is freely toped up with sentiment. The humanistic function of the film and the importance of the theme about the unbroken will of a child drenches the story in pathos.

Karel Kachyna's Mala morska vila (The Little Mermaid, 1976)The child as a hero means for Kachyňa an embodiment of purity, a clear mirror of unkind, cruel world of adults. The director emphasises this by his choice of a hero-outsiders, the ones who are banished of the ordinary life because of illness (Už zase skáču přes kaluže, Počítání oveček / Counting Sheep, 1982), their family situation (Robinsonka / The Little Robinson Girl, 1974), different age (At žije republika, 1965) or predetermination Malá mořská víla (The Little Mermaid, 1976). Childhood cruelty is quite outside of Kachyňa's point of view, with the notable exception of the film Ať žije republika. It's a simplified model in which the cruelty is connected not with the children but with their environment. As Jan Švankmajer says:

Looking at childhood as at some lost paradise is quite imprecise. Already our coming to this world could not be anything pleasant. Then childhood is full of prohibitions, inequities and cruelness. That children can not wait to reach the adulthood [is the same mistake as an idealisation of childhood in the old age]. Nobody could be as cruel as a child[1].

Dora Viceníková

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Also of interest
About the author

Dora Viceníková is a PhD candidate in the Department of Film and Audio-Visual Culture at the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University in Brno. She also writes reviews for the Czech daily MF Dnes and contributes to Český rozhlas (Czech Radio) and Česká televize (Czech Television).


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Footnotes

1. Švankmajer, Jan: Transmutace smyslů. Středoevropská galerie a nakladatelství (Praha: 1994).return to text

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