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DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT (DEMANTY NOCI) (director/writer: Jan Nemec; screenwriter: Arnost Luistig/from the story “Darkness Casts No Shadows” by Arnost Luistig; cinematographer: Jaroslav Kucera; editor: Miroslav Hájek; music: Vlastimil Hála/Jan Rychlík; cast: Antonin Kumbera (Escapee), Ladislav Jansky(Escapee); Runtime: 64; MPAA Rating: NR; Facets; 1964-Czechoslovakia-in Czech with English subtitles)

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature film debut for the 27-year-old New Wave Czech filmmaker Jan Nemec (“Pearls of the Deep”/”Martyrs of Love”/”The Party and the Guests”)is a memorable one, that’s bleak, both surrealistic and realistic, and haunting.It’s based on the story by Holocaust survivor Arnost Luistig, one of the two Jewish boys (Antonin Kumbera & Ladislav Jansky) who escape from a train transporting them from one concentration camp to another one in Dachau. The boys go on the run for four days through the woods facing starvation, mental and physical fatigue, fear and unsettling dreams that inter-cut the story of their flight. The boys are hunted down by a senile group of armed German peasants and when brought to the village mayor are told that they will be shot by a firing squad for stealing bread, but the peasants don’t have the heart to kill them after going through the motions and the boys flee through the woods to find their way back home.

The hand-held camera of Jaroslav Kucera brilliantly captures the nightmarish experience (the boys at one point thinking the giant trees are falling on them), as the weary lost boys travel through the dangerous forest of darkness. The sparse dialogue and its uncompromising anti-Nazi stance, gives the film a raw power. Furthermore it’s shot in black and white, and has the lyrical power of a Kafka everyday nightmare in its stark images of the real and imaginary world.

It won the Grand Prix of the Mannheim and the Pesaro Film Festival, and an award in Venice. Though rarely seen today, it’s still considered one of the great films of WW II.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”