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SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE – CELEBRATION AT THE BOTANICAL GARDEN (1969)
Director: Elo Havetta
Script: Lubor Dohnal, Elo Havetta
Music: Zdenek Liska
Cinematography: Dodo Simoncic
Cast: Slavoj Urban, Jirí Sýkora
Nina Divísková, Dusan Blaskovic
Hana Slivková

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Elo Havetta was born in Slovakia in 1938 and first developed an interest in photography and graphic design. At ŠUP in Bratislava he studied with Juraj Jakubisko and collaborated on a student film ŠUPKA A ŠUPÁCI (1957). His interest in film led to him attending FAMU. Unfortunately, Havetta released his two feature films at the end of the Prague Spring and the beginning of Normalization under the strict rule of Gustáv Husák. After officials saw both feature films from Havetta, he became blacklisted and no longer received feature film projects and was relegated to television. Here he made a television film ŠKODA LÁSKY (1973) and two television programs RÁČTE VSTÚPIŤ (1974) and MLADÝMI OČAMI (1974).

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The period of the early 1970s was rough for Havetta personally as he became divorced from his wife and was relegated to television. He was known for his lack of desire to be in the limelight and for being a comedian. He was also a heavy drinker and succumbed to bleeding ulcers at the age of 36. Because of his short career and the lack of international exposure to his film and the sharp policies of normalization, Havetta’s exposure remained at minimum. With the cultural renaissance in film interest, now thanks to the Slovenský filmový ústav we can watch these amazing masterpieces from a director who has remained critically absent.

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Havetta’s first opportunity to shoot a feature film coincided with the end of both the Slovak New Wave and the Prague Spring. SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE is a brilliant debut film capturing the mad humor, absurdity, sexuality, and surreal imagery that is at the epicenter of the New Wave. The film opens with the arrival of a guest named Pierre to a rural Slovak town. Visiting from France, Pierre’s arrival brings a tide of chaos that rattles the small town. Pierre unleashes his idea of freedom upon its citizens with drunken debauchery, singing, and attempting to marry off two of the young teens that are becoming scandalous. The film touches on many philosophical themes of of being free, discussing religion, intellectualism, cosmopolitanism, and nationalism

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Early in the film, Pierre discusses the idea of being free with a priest, who believes freedom comes in stages, with the final stage being an understanding that freedom is best when wanting to be without total freedom. Pierre shrugs this off to go to the local inn and has too much to drink. SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE concludes with the celebration of the newlyweds but also with one final assault on the theme of miracles. The celebration takes a chaotic turn with wine spraying everywhere and pieces of the stage catching fire but fortunately a storm rolls in to quell the flames. At this point Havetta allows the process of filming to be seen with the shots focusing on the crew and scenes of Havetta directing the actors in the scenes. This leaves the viewer questioning who to attribute these miracles to.

 

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ĽALIE POĽNÉ – WILD LILIES (1972)
Director: Elo Havetta
Script: Vincent Sikula
Music: Zdenek Liska
Cinematography: Dodo Simoncic
Cast: Lotar Radványi, Vladimír Kostovic
Zofia Martisová, Ivan Krivosudsky
Emil Tomascik, Ludovít Króner

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From 1961-1967 Havetta shot 6 student films: GOTICKÁ MANÉŽ PRE JEDNÉHO (1962); SVÄTÁ JANA (1963); ŽIVOT NA DIVOKO (1964); OBED V TRÁVE (1964); 34 DNÍ ABSOLÚTNEHO POKOJA (1965); PREDPOVEĎ: NULA (1966).

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SVÄTÁ JANA INT JANE) is an early short focusing on a girl at a party who is detached and reading a bible while siting under a poster of Saint Jane. When more students show up to the party a boy calls her out as Saint Jane and she tries to further detach herself from the party. 34 DNÍ ABSOLÚTNEHO POKOJA (34 DAYS OF ABSOLUTE PEACE) is a stylized documentary following a man living alone in a boxcar attempting to build a barrier to pool water. Shots alternate between framing him in isolation and out of place at the local town. PREDPOVEĎ: NULA (FORECAST: NULL) is Havetta’s first attempt at a longer format film. It’s the first film that has a lot of the style you can attribute to Havetta, such as the absurdity of including the film process within the film along with the humor and style he enjoyed in Chaplin’s films.

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In ĽALIE POĽNÉ, an adaption of the novela NEBÝVA NA KAŽDOM VŔŠKUŔŠ HOSTINEC by Vincent Šikulu, we are introduced to two soldiers who are just returning from World War One. They have no interest in re-acclimating to society and instead lead a life of mischief as homeless wanders causing trouble and pulling gags. ĽALIE POĽNÉ has a stronger grasp of cinematography, moving away from quick frantic cuts and focusing more on muting the action within the frame.  A masterful change with the shift in mode from the absurd humor of SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE to the tragic existentialism in ĽALIE POĽNÉ.

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However, the film is probably the stronger tribute to Havettas interest in Chaplin films. With an abundance of slapstick comedy, the film opens up with static slower framed shots akin to a silent film, with the spoken words framed as subtitled text. The film is no less absurd than SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE, as the vagrant veterans gain a following among the town’s already homeless population. ĽALIE POĽNÉ shows Havettas masterful use of his education in photography and his quick growth in narrative pacing compared to his debut film. Unfortunately, this is also the film that is in most need of a full restoration that it most certainly deserves.

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Both ĽALIE POĽNÉ and SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE are available on English friendly DVD editions thanks to SME. It also includes three of Havettas student films, a documentary with some of Havettas collaborators and some of the actors in the town in which SLÁVNOST V BOTANICKEJ ZÁHRADE was filmed.

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