ALL MY GOOD COUNTRYMEN (Vsichni dobrí rodáci)

(director/writer: Vojtech Jasny; cinematographer: Jaroslav Kucera; editor: Miroslav Hájek; music: Svatopluk Havelka; cast: Vladimir Mensik (Jorka Pyrk), Radoslav Brzobohaty (Frantisek), Waldemar Matuska (Zasinka), Vlastimil Brodský (Ocenás), Drahomira Hofmanová (Merry Widow), Pavel Pavlovský (Bertin), Václav Babka (Franta Lampa), Václav Lohniský (Zejvala); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jaroslav Jílovec; Facets Video; 1968-Czechoslovakia-in Czech with English subtitles)

“A propaganda film with a heart.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A propaganda film with a heart. It has the tone of a black comedy laced in poignant and tragic moments, as it relates the development and changes in a small Moravian farming village (Bystre) from the end of WW II to the start of the 1960s. The story is told by a narrator and is divided in eleven chapters that are each given an inter-title: May 1945, Early Spring 1948, June 1949, July 1951, Autumn 1951, June 1952, Christmas 1954, Summer 1955, Summer 1957, Winter 1958 and Epilogue.

Czech filmmaker Vojtech Jasny (“Desire”/”Return To Paradise Lost”/”September Nights”) was called by Milos Forman “the spiritual father of the Czech New Wave.” He won the Best Director award in the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and the film received a Special Mention, as a result the Soviet occupiers banned the popular film and when he refused to repent when asked to by the Soviet authorities he fled the country in 1970 and made films in Austria and England until finally relocating in New York in 1979. “All” was one of the last films completed in the country prior to the Russian invasion in 1968. It was filmed at a time known as The Prague Spring, which lasted from January to August of 1968. The Soviet invaders brought with them a strict censorship.

The historic nostalgic film follows the destinies of seven friends, ordinary men, who are all friends of the pretty redhead known as the Merry Widow (Drahomira Hofmanová). Her husband dies in an accident and she’s left with two brats to care for. The local postman, a member of the Communist Party, Bertin (Pavel Pavlovský), wins the beauty’s heart in these relatively carefree times. Things change for the worse for the villagers in 1948, as the Czech Communist Party begins its plans to force collectivization on the rural farmers. A self-appointed troika uses its powers to force the farmers to join. Frantisek (Radoslav Brzobohatý), the film’s hero, is a Christian believer who has a biblical quality to his actions and who remains obedient to God and his large family not bowing to the Communist pressure tactics. The stubborn and ethical Frantisek is the one the other farmers look up to as their leader, and when he resists collectivization he’s imprisoned. His land is confiscated, but the collective is a financial nightmare and inefficiently run. Eventually he’s persuaded to run the worthless collective as manager. Meanwhile the naive Bertin is fatally shot in an ambush by the farmers for siding with the Communist officials. His death scares off the organist Ocenás (Vlastimil Brodský) to leave the village; Ocenás headed the troika and was threatened by the farmers. The likable career thief and village sage, Jorka Pyrk (Vladimir Mensik), who started romancing the Merry Widow, is arrested but rather than face re-education in jail, takes his own life by poisoning himself. By now the Merry Widow has a rep for being a bad luck charm to her lovers. Death also comes to the guilt-ridden rich farmer Zasinka (Waldemar Matuska), who during the war cowardly divorced his Jewish wife rather than face the Germans. When Ocenás departs, the ambitious cottager photographer Zejvala (Václav Lohniský) replaces him as leader of the troika.

The film is based on real events and many of the characters were inhabitants of Jasny’s native Kelc. It’s a labor of love film, a personal story reflecting a significant historical time that Jasny felt had to be told. It tells of the break up of long friendships among the countrymen (the seven pals of the Merry Widow), and how Communism caused disharmony to a functioning farming community that was proud of its heritage. It led to ruin in the community as farm properties were collectivized by those who cared little about farming.

What’s exceptional is how the Bruegel-like landscape comes alive as a pastoral paradise, as its illuminated in its green fields, blooming trees and from the golden sun. An old wrinkle-faced woman periodically pops into focus without saying anything, and she represents the old ways elevating the story into an allegory. It has been said by others that the film is “a psalm sung about the destinies of the land.” In any case, it’s certainly one of the best films to tell about the grave problems created by collectivization of the countryside and is considered by most as the best work in Jasny’s long career.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”