Making films under the curtain of censorship is an extremely precarious and potentially life-threatening undertaking. It can easily lead to a very short career. This is what makes the achievements of the Czech new wave film-makers even for impressive. The likes of Miloš Forman, Věra Chytilová, Ivan Passer, Jiří Menzel and Pavel Juráček put the country’s cinema on the map and opened it up to the world. Forman’s first narrative feature, Black Peter, set the tone for the rest of his output.
At the age of sixteen, Petr (Ladislav Jakim) finds his first gainful employment working in a grocery store. The shop manager (Frantisek Kosina) tasks him with watching out for shoplifters. Petr spends his time outside of work haphazardly chasing after Pavla (Pavla Martinkova), being harangued by an apprentice bricklayer (Vladimír Pucholt) and finding himself on the receiving end of his father’s (Jan Vostrcil) lectures. Petr’s ‘inability’ to do his job causes consternation, both at work and home.
Using a cast of largely amateur actors, Black Peter mixes elements of cinéma vérité, documentary and black comedy to create an authentic, wry and amusing coming-of-age fable. On the surface, it’s an offbeat story of a boy becoming a man. Dig deeper and suddenly you’ll find subversive elements around every corner. A citizen not willing to inform. One not carrying-out a ‘worthwhile’ function in society. Black Peter is a well-observed slice of Czech new wave cinema.
Black Peter is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Second Run on 9 July.