Drahomíra Vihanová was born in south Moravia in the town of Moravský Krumlov on July 31st 1930. After graduating grammar school, she followed her interest in classical piano and moved to Brno to study at the conservatory. Her professor confessed to her that he didn’t believe she was meant to be a pianist so Vihanová left for Prague where she quickly found work at a television station as an assistant director on musical broadcasts. She enjoyed the work and wanted to advance in her career, and her superiors suggested that she would need to educate herself more before continuing the career path.
She attended FAMU in the early sixties with several of the major directors of the Czech New Wave, such as Chytilová and Schorm. Vihanová began her studies with the plan of returning to her television career, but by graduation her interest in filmmaking had grown. However, her time at the conservatory was not wasted; her interest in music was in part the inspiration of her student film FUGA NA ČERNÝCH KLÁVESÁCH (FUGUE ON THE BLACK KEYS, 1964), which focused on the story of a black exchange student studying at the conservatory. The film follows him on the day before his graduation performance; he spends the day not thinking about anything but the performance and at the end of the day learns his entire family has died. Vihanová combines the character’s emotion about his family and conflict about the performance to create a humanistic portrait. The film is beautiful in how it blends cultures and people. Vihanová captures brief elements of racism, never focusing on it, only giving us a glimpse to show us how it is part of the character’s normal day. Both English and Czech are also spoken in the film, the beginnings of Vihanová’s desire to show the blending of cultures within the Eastern Bloc. Vihanová’s interest in music also influenced one of her stronger film aesthetics, editing. This is much more evident in her documentary work, which began in the seventies.
After graduating from FAMU, Vihanová’s first feature film work came from assisting Otakar Vávra, one of her teachers from FAMU. ROMANCE PRO KŘÍDLOVKU (ROMANCE FOR BUGLE, 1966) gave Vihanová the opportunity to not only assist in directing, but also work on casting and editing.
Vihanová was interested in working on her own feature film, and her classmates were beginning to release their own films, defining the era of the Czech New Wave. Unfortunately, Vihanová ran into a few setbacks trying to begin work on her first feature film as a director. In an interview with her for the Czech TV series ZLATÁ ŠEDESÁTÁ (GOLDEN SIXTIES), she claims that she was never much of a writer, so eventually Vihanová selected a novel *Zabitá Neděle* written by Jiří Křenek and was approached by Jan Procházka at Barrandov Studios to turn that story into a film.
Production for this film was truly unique and it’s the story of its creation that does a great job of exposing what that transitional period from ’68 to ’69 was really like in Czechoslovakia. Shooting was supposed to begin in 1968, but with the censorship at its lowest point, practically every director sought to put out a film in the relaxed climate. Because of this, Vihanová struggled to find a cinematographer and before she could begin shooting ZABITÁ NEDĚLE, the Warsaw Pact armies invaded and the Prague Spring was over. Early in 1969, Vihanová was about to leave on a flight to visit a friend in Paris and called Procházka, confessing that if she wasn’t able to make the film she planned to stay in Paris. Procházka told her that the film could be made, but she needed to have a print struck by December 31st, 1969.
They filmed ZABITÁ NEDĚLE in the city of Hradec Králové and at Pevnost Josefov, a fortress that was occupied by Russian troops at the time. Vihanová would shoot during the day and edit the film at night, trying to meet the deadline at the end of the year. The film was completed on time, though some elements weren’t fully realized, such as the final scene with the target, which was meant to fade to black over time. Vihanová has also expressed issues with some of the sound in certain scenes. The film was screened for a select few at Barrandov Studios, and then was subsequently banned “forever” along with three other films. Vihanová would be banned from film for the next seven years, with the public unable to see ZABITÁ NEDĚLE until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. She spent her first years working at a library before she was allowed to secretly recut trailers for imported foreign films. When she was allowed to return to directing 1977, it was in the genre of short documentary film at Krátký Film Praha. Finally in 1994, Vihanová released her second feature film PEVNOST (THE FORTRESS) twenty-five years after finishing ZABITÁ NEDĚLE.
ZABITÁ NEDĚLE begins with the memory of Arnošt (Ivan Palúch), a military commander cast to a small outpost, attending his mother’s funeral in his hometown before returning to his post at Josefov. Soon after, Arnošt wakes from his dreams to a hangover from his debauchery the night earlier, and committed to never drinking again. The audience watches Arnošt as he suffers through getting ready for the day, while also experiencing the memories he recalls from times that are both long ago and as recent as the past night. He is most troubled by the fact he spent almost all his money the previous night at the local tavern owned by his on-and-off girlfriend. He spends his Sunday walking to one of the military facilities he oversees, which is largely deserted besides an older overweight guard who hasn’t noticed two teenagers sunbathing in the yard. Arnošt arrests them for trespassing, but becomes frustrated while typing up the report, arguing with the girls and then eventually releasing them. With nothing left to do, he returns to the same bar he was at the night earlier, abusing his girlfriend while she constantly tries to support him. After fighting with her in the street, he returns home drunk and after counting what change he has left for the day, he commits suicide.
ZABITÁ NEDĚLE has only one true character, Arnošt, and the film focuses on his psychological state over his final day alive. Arnošt is a product of the military system; he only knows how to follow rules and is subjected to the repetitious doldrums of active duty life. He has more than likely reached his career ceiling, as he has been relegated to keeping watch over facilities that were established under Austrian-Hungarian totalitarian rule. The walls are painted with slogans such as “FORGET WHAT YOU SEE AND HEAR -SILENCE”. When he listens to the radio in the opening scenes, it’s filled with stories of death with flooding in Brno and earthquakes in Morocco. Josefov as a location is oppressive, its roads are circular and the fort is enclosed. Its inhabitants are mostly soldiers, older women and gypsies. A small village outside the fort is the closest thing to any sort of modern lifestyle. Arnošt’s personal life is seemingly as oppressive as his surroundings. Vihanová alludes in the opening scene to two important details: his personal relationships and how his memories often feel like nightmares.
A majority of ZABITÁ NEDĚLE tends to focus on Arnošt’s relationships and how it lends to his isolation in Josefov. There are three female characters that are tied to Arnošt in different ways that help to shape the psychology of his character. Ingrid is a young girl who lives in the same neighborhood as Arnošt. While Ingrid’s youth is representative of the typical narrative themes of innocence and wonder, she is also there as an extension of Arnošt’s psychological state. The only time Arnošt appears at peace in ZABITÁ NEDĚLE is when he is teaching Ingrid about life or having a philosophical discussion about the difference between having experienced something and the drive to experience something. This discussion with Ingrid is of utmost importance to Arnošt, as he seems devoid of any desire to search out a new experience, but obviously holds that desire dearly enough to try to ingrain it in Ingrid. Ingrid also seems to innocently enable Arnošt’s destructive drinking by being the person to go get him a beer when he’s hungover in the morning.
The second female character is Marie, the local bar owner in town who is in love with Arnošt. However, Arnošt returns little of the affection and simply abuses the relationship with its free access to alcohol, and her desire to do anything to potentially please him. Vihanová never directly explains the disconnect between Arnošt and Marie, but she does leave several paths open to exploring their relationship. Marie seems to have lost any desire to fulfill herself, a trait that seems equally strong in Arnošt. She is also seemingly part of the repetitious cycle that already exists in Arnošt’s life. Spending each day opening the bar, seeing the same customers, and eventually catering to Arnošt’s drinking in the evening. Marie even comes off as slightly bourgeois when compared against Arnošt. Arnošt lives in a small apartment with little to no possessions and a dying tiny ceramic stove, while Marie owns a bar and furnishes her house with ceramic animals.
The third woman is a mysterious figure, and is potentially the lover Arnošt left behind when he was stationed in Josefov. The only time they actually interact is in the first scene in which Arnošt attends his mother’s funeral. Beyond that, she only appears in the dreams and memories of Arnošt, often in a sort of corrective replacement of Marie. In one scene, we watch as the band at Marie’s bar warms up for the evening while the faint sounds of the wedding march can be heard in the warm-up. Eventually, the scene fades into a dream of Marie and Arnošt getting married. They kiss at the stop of the steps of the church, but the scene repeats over and over with Marie and the mysterious women replacing each other over and over. However, the audience is aware that her character is no longer present, and that she is relegated to Arnošt’s memory. All three of these relationships help to define the lack of any real relationship Arnošt might have, essentially giving him the feeling of isolation.
Outside of Arnošt’s personal relationships, there tends to be an overwhelming sense of failure. One of the first thing’s Arnošt says is his need to stop drinking, but by the end of the film he has already rescinded from his goal. Though Arnošt is a soldier, he is seen only killing two flies and a few rats, opponents far below his caliber of training. Even though he is an officer in the military, it seems his only job is to teach citizens in the town about the dangers of nuclear war, which they are apathetic to learning, and checking in on empty facilities. When he catches the two girls sunbathing while also trespassing, it seems at first he wants to abuse his power to control the girls, but once he begins to interrogate them he finds himself restricted to his militaristic training, opting to write up a report on the ladies’ crime. As his report comes to a close, he scrambles to find a pen as the sunbathers jeer and taunt him, as the word péro in Czech means both pen and a slur for penis.
Arnošt’s memories also often turn into nightmares in ZABITÁ NEDĚLE. In one such early memory, Arnošt recalls Polish prostitutes coming over, in which Vihanová films them moving around the apartment, circling the camera at sharp angles both above and below them, disorienting the audience. He yells at the prostitutes to leave, and all of a sudden he finds himself frantically chasing after them through hanging sheets, as the memory ends with a shot of one of the prostitutes sitting in his window laughing maniacally. In another, he rambles about the debt he owes to the bar while a masquerade party is going on. Vihanová films the scenes with extreme close-ups of the guests as their masks are removed exposing the old villagers. These film techniques lend a nightmarish sense of entrapment to Arnošt’s existence.
Around two thirds of the way through the film, Arnošt begins to question his ability to discern reality. He announces this question shortly before passing the same gypsy who has been smoking outside his apartment, while the gypsy’s dog has been digging the same hole. Vihanová set up this experience for the audience by not discerning any of Arnošt’s memories as being either real or imaginary, blurring the lines between any chronological order. Arnošt flirts with this reality in an early scene in the film where he cleans and loads his gun while mimicking suicide. The scene is contrasted with a memory of Arnošt teaching a friend how to shoot a gun; his friend seems unable to shoot or simply afraid. This scene serves as exposition to show Arnošt once had both a desire and interest in growing his technical skill of shooting, but now sees that ability as an outlet to escape.
While Vihanová herself doesn’t see ZABITÁ NEDĚLE as a political film, it’s interesting to view the film against the existing socialism of its time of the original filming. In *Czech And Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition*, Peter Hames writes that films in this era were often meant to criticize society, not politics. It’s only the fact that socialism controlled every facet of society that causes us to see the films as being political, when politics was not always the directors’ intention.
The Prague Spring was in part born out of the lack of change occurring within Czechoslovakia. As such, everything is seemingly stationary within ZABITÁ NEDĚLE. Arnošt doesn’t seem to be progressing within the ranks of the military, which helps to explore the humanistic side of ZABITÁ NEDĚLE. The elements around Arnošt’s life are also stationary; the gypsy and his dog are repeated throughout the film, staying in the same spot and doing the same thing.
Another socialistic element is explored through Arnošt’s financial situation. His plight of being out of money comes to a climax right after the sunbathers are set free. After releasing the girls, he notices the old guardsman’s wallet in the back pocket brimming with money. He pulls a charade, pretending to have left his wallet at home and the guardsman is quick to offer 100 korunas. This scene seems to reinforce this new idea of the unofficial economy in the realm of the tip or bribe in existing socialism. The guardsman seems quick to view the 100 korunas as a way to counteract his mistake of letting the girls trespass onto the property. Arnošt seems to have a change of heart once he realizes how quick the guard is to give up the money, possibly reminding himself that he is buying into the system that is the cause of his deep oppression. In Milan Simecka’s The Restoration Of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia we get a sense of the potential emotions tied to this scene. In his chapter on corruption, he satirically describes the idea of giving a tip or bribe and how it has evolved under that existing socialism. It’s here he describes “It was flourishing by the sixties; and in the renewed order which eliminated all means of public protest, it is regarded as something quite normal… these days, if a citizen requires something a little more out-of-the-ordinary than a loaf of bread or a tooth extraction at an emergency clinic, then he will budget in the various well-tried forms of corruption ranging from a crumpled hundred-crown note stuffed into an overall pocket to the refined combination of services of all kinds”. Interestingly enough, Simecka describes the “crumpled hendred-crown note” as the go-to form of bribery in his chapter on corruption.
If ZABITÁ NEDĚLE had been released as originally planned in 1970, its themes would have been all too real for audiences. Its repetitive cycle and lack of change would have been even more relevant in 1970. Arnošt’s, relegation to Josefov and commanding rank but without anyone to command would have been seen as a product of normalization, having been screened out from any sort of real authority with the hope that his alienation would have led to what was his tragic end. His position as a Czech soldier would also highlight his uselessness in the wake of the Russian occupation.
Unfortunately, Arnošt was never a victim of normalization while Vihanová was, feeling the very real experience of being screened out. Vihanová probably lost any real opportunity of influencing the Czech New Wave, and seems to have subsequently influenced her post-communist career. In her interview with Robert Buchar in Czech New Wave Filmmakers in Interviews she laments about how both feature films released in post-communist Czech Republic were poorly received by Czechs and fared slightly better in the West. Vihanová is a strong willed director who refused to bend to politics, accepting her fate after the ban.
When she returned to cinema through documentaries in 1977, it was a strong comeback. POSLEDNÍ Z RODU (LAST OF KIN, 1977) is a powerful short documentary exhibiting the last horse-drawn logger in Czechoslovakia. It is beautiful in its ability to show a humanistic side to work that is seemingly being replaced by homogeneous machinery. At the same time, POSLEDNÍ Z RODU works as a strong political metaphor about the lack of care for the lowest workers. To this day, Vihanová seems underrepresented not just in the world of Czech cinema but film at large. Hopefully over time we can overcome this barrier to better appreciate Vihanová’s convictions and additions to the cinematic language.
Episode 14 of ZLATÁ ŠEDESÁTÁ with Drahomíra Vihanová
Buchar, Robert Czech New Wave Filmmakers in Interviews 2004
Hames, Peter Czech and Slovak Cinema 2009
Simecka, Milan The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia 1984
Interview with Drahomíra Vihanová for Eastern European Film Bulletin and Julia Zelman online at http://eefb.org/archive/april-2013/interview-with-drahomira-vihanova/
Analysis of ZABITÁ NEDĚLE for 25fps.cz by Adam Kotaška online at http://25fps.cz/2010/tema-filmu-zabita-nedele/#_ftnref20
Drahomíra Vihanová’s personal website http://www.drahomiravihanova.cz/zabita-nedele-s3cz