TOUHA – DESIRE (1958)
Director: Vojtěch Jasný
Script: Vojtěch Jasný
Music: Svatopluk Havelka
Cinematography: Jaroslav Kučera
Cast: Jan Jakeš, Václav Babka, Věra Bublíková,
Vlastimil Brodský, Jana Brejchová, Jiří Vala,
František Vnouček, Otto Šimánek, Věra Tichánková,
Václav Lohniský, Zdeněk Kutil, Zdeněk Řehoř,
František Mušálek, Vladimír Brabec, Vladimír Menšík
Vojtěch Jasný was born in 1925 and experienced a very rough childhood. Catching and almost dying from the Spanish Flu at a young age, Jasný’s father took him to the cinema while recovering. It was watching silent films during that time that drove his interest in filmmaking. Jasný applied and graduated from FAMU, befriending fellow director and screenwriter Karel Kachyňa. They worked on many projects during college, including being the only pair to complete a feature film in their class. After graduating, they continued collaborating on films, one of their earliest films being a documentary with Chinese co-production called LIDÉ JEDNOHO SRDCE (PEOPLE OF ONE HEART, 1953). Because of this project, both Jasný and Kachyňa enlisted and were promoted to the rank of major. Jasný, returning on a train home from working on LIDÉ JEDNOHO SRDCE, noticed the poor Russian countryside and began to recognize the propaganda of Russia. He decided to work on documentaries until Stalin’s death and with his first feature, ZÁŘIJOVÉ NOCIHE (SEPTEMBER NIGHT, 1957), he negatively portrayed Stalinism. Jasný next worked on the script for the film VŠICHNI DOBŘÍ RODÁCI (ALL MY COUNTRYMEN, 1968), but because of his political commentary in ZÁŘIJOVÉ NOCIHE, the script was banned until the Prague Spring when Jasný completed the film. TOUHA became the film Jasný worked on instead, opting for a more poetic stylistic approach, breaking the film into four parts.∗
Four Seasons, Four periods of human life…
O CHLAPCI, KTERÝ HLEDÁL KONEC SVĚTE
THE BOY WHO WANTED TO FIND THE END OF THE WORLD
Joska (Jan Jakeš), a young boy, competes with other kids racing up a hill chasing after birds. He believes that the horizon is the end of the world, and the other boys tease him for it. When he returns home, his father (Václav Babka) tells him that today is the day that his baby sister and mother will come home. Joska asks his father, and later his aunt, where children come from and comes to the conclusion that birds bring them in eggs. While waiting for his dad to come home, Joska falls asleep in a barn dreaming of his sister. The dream is surreal, with Joska and his father running through town and later up the hill to find an older neighbor with a giant egg. Joska’s sister hatches from the egg at the end of his dream. When Joska wakes up, he hears the ambulance and rushes home with flowers he has collected for his sister. His dad briefly punishes him before recognizing his gift and sends him in to meet his new sister, the experience not living up to his dreams.
This first segment of Spring shows Jasný’s youthful appreciation of silent film. Joska’s dream could have been silent, as it still captures the youthful imagination of Joska. O CHLAPCI, KTERÝ HLEDÁL KONEC SVĚTE also sets up the central theme of TOUHA, which is of course desire. TOUHA is a personal film for Jasný, using the film as a means of coming to terms with personal tragedy. This is set up in Joska’s poetic dream sequence. Joska is met with the harsh reality of his father punishing him for breaking the rules, along with the reality of his sister being an infant, and not a child the age of Joska.∗
LIDÉ NA ZEMI A HVĚDY NA NEBI
PEOPLE ON EARTH AND STARS IN THE SKY
This segment begins with Lenka’s father and his brother-in-law fighting over property lines. Lenka (Jana Brejchová) rushes into town and finds Jan (Jiří Vala), a land surveyor, to help her diffuse the fight. After he helps them settle the property lines, Jan starts to flirt with Lenka and invites both her and her sister to the observatory to view the stars. Lenka comes alone to the observatory, and Jan talks about the disappointment in his life as he is watching it pass by. Soon they begin a relationship, while Lenka is completing her last year of school. They fall in love over the summer, but just like Jan predicts, Lenka graduates from school and wants to continue on to university in Prague. The final day, Jan sees Lenka off at the station and she promises to always love him. As the train leaves the station, Lenka appears excited about her newfound freedom.
LIDÉ NA ZEMI A HVĚDY NA NEBI is steeped in scenes of youthful love as they bike around the countryside to sees out places to swim in the height of summer. This segment of the film also repeats imagery from O CHLAPCI, KTERÝ HLEDÁL KONEC SVĚTE, with Jan giving a bouquet of flowers to Lenka as she is leaving. We also watch as the main characters tackle hills, with Joska easily running up them pushed by his imagination; Jan and Lenka glide up them on bikes as if carried by love. Yet it’s the ending of the segment that is really interesting, for all of Lenka’s happiness in her relationship with Jan, we watch as she seems enthralled on the train to a life unknown.∗
In the third segment of Fall, we follow Anděla (Věra Tichánková) in her old age as she struggles to take care of herself, her father, and her farm. She is also hostile with the collective farm that seized her father’s lands to add to the cooperative. Michal (Václav Lohniský) returns to the town every season to help Anděla with her harvest. The town knows that Michal loves Anděla, and even though she refused his marriage proposal years ago, he still returns to help. However, Anděla falls sick at the height of harvest and is forced to go to the hospital. While she is away, Michal takes care of her farm and her father. When Anděla returns Michal again proposes marriage to her, but she rebukes him and chooses to continue to toil alone.
This is the first story in which Jasný’s negativity is more obvious. Anděla is stubborn in her desire to be free, to an obvious fault. When Jasný first approached the committee about filming TOUHA, Otakar Vávra was worried censors would reject the script. They encouraged him to shoot one story to prove the project’s worthiness, suggesting he film LIDÉ NA ZEMI A HVĚDY NA NEBI though he opted to shoot ANDĚLA. Seeking out a cinematographer to capture TOUHA’s tragic vision, Jasný found Jaroslav Kučera, a film maker who had just been released from a work camp after nine years of imprisonment. No other filmmaker would use Kučera because of this, but Jasný found a long lasting bond with him after talking to him about his time in prison.∗
The final story is in the season of Winter with Hynková, a teacher who feels she has reached the end of her life. Her son, who can only stay for a week as he has left his pregnant wife at home, visits her randomly. They reminisce about his childhood while he helps tend to her chores around the house. Hynková reveals her fear of imminent death to her son, who tries to avoid the subject. He returns to work surveying, only to receive a telegram that his mother is sick. Both he and his brother return home to say their final goodbyes to their mother. They bury her and go on with their lives as the film ends with with the birth of Hynková’s grandson.
Jasný says these last two stories are the most autobiographical parts to the film, with ANDĚLA portraying his neighbor and MAMINKA about his own mother. This story also revisits similar imagery from the other stories, with the climbing of hills and Hynková’s son working as a land surveyor. TOUHA also begins and ends with the same event of the birth of a child. These themes in TOUHA seem to unite on the idea that love and desire binds them all. However, Jasný also seems to say that you can’t separate the tragedy that is tied to that desire. TOUHA is overall a stylistically excellent lyrical film linking emotional characters to beautiful imagery.
It’s unfortunate that Jasný was a victim of the political situation in Czechoslovakia, but by the end of the Prague Spring and by beginning of Normalization, Jasný would flee the country and emigrate to North America. He continued to direct and he returned to Czechoslovakia in the nineties to direct feature films.∗
TOUHA is available as a region free, PAL, English friendly DVD from Film Export.