FOR DECADES AFTER the abrupt end of the Prague Spring in 1968, the shadow of the Soviets' oppressive regime hung heavy over Czech cinema and art. A traveling national tour of contemporary Czech films stops through Portland over the next two weeks, and judging from their collective pulse, the Czechs have found room for slivers of light and hope in their nation's historically bleak mentality, even as the hangover of Communism persists. All six films are worth seeing.
The series opens with Walking Too Fast, with director Radim Špaek making an appearance at the screening on Friday, June 15. This is the darkest of the bunch, a raw look at a secret policeman in the 1980s who covets the perceived freedom of the writer he's been surveilling—not to mention his sexy Slovakian girlfriend. Špaek shows that even the ugly oppressors are oppressed in their own ways, and the dimly lit film holds remarkable power.
Less grim are the family stories of Long Live the Family (screening June 17-18) and Four Suns (June 16, 19) although thumbnail descriptions of both might indicate otherwise. Long Live the Family follows a corrupt banker taking his family on a camping trip as a cover for running from the law. Four Suns is even more desperate: A fuck-up of a father watches his family disintegrate—his son falling into drugs and drink, his wife cheating on him—as he helplessly puffs away on weed. Each of these movies finds hilarity and uplift, in their own dark ways.
The most rousing is Ondej Trojan's wonderful Identity Card (June 23) a coming-of-age story of four Czech teens in the 1970s, as they sneak booze, grow their hair, and listen to the Plastic People of the Universe. Playwright (and former Czech president) Václav Havel's Leaving (June 22, 24) and a slight but winning Slovakian documentary, Matchmaking Mayor (June 16, 17)—which echoes Miloš Forman's 1967 masterpiece The Firemen's Ball—round out the series.