Death of the Beautiful Deer

Karel Kachyňa, 1986

Film at Filmový přehled


Ota Pavel’s autobiographical book, Smrt krásných srnců (Death of the Beautiful Deer, 1971), offers seven short stories depicting the author’s happy childhood prior to World War Two and the occupation of Czechoslovakia that dramatically affected the fate of his mixed, Jewish family. In 1982, director Miroslav Balajka adapted the short story Králíci s moudrýma očima (The Rabbits with Wise Eyes) as a TV film. Kapři pro Wehrmacht (Carps for the Wehrmacht) had already served as the material for a film by Prague FAMU film school student Karel Smyczek in 1975, and in the same year his fellow student at the school, Vladimír Merta, adapted the short story Smrt krásných srnců. This story of a brave Jewish father, who breaks all Nazi regulations in his way to trespass and hunt a deer to feed his two concentration camp-bound sons, also served as an inspiration for the eponymous 1986 feature film made by Karel Kachyňa. However, the experienced director and screenwriter expanded the narrative by taking motifs from other short stories by Pavel. The protagonist, the father Leo Popper, an enthusiastic fisherman and nature lover, works as a successful traveling salesman for the Electrolux company. But the Nazis turn the lives of the Poppers upside down. It is a tragedy: Leo is dismissed from his job and he and his wife and three sons are ordered to leave Prague. When the two older sons are about to be transported to a concentration camp, Leo takes the decision to risk his life for his malnourished offspring: with the help of a wild Alsatian dog borrowed from a friend – the ferryman Prošek – he hunts deer through the forests that surround his beloved Berounka river. Now only the German patrols stand between him and a return home with his illicit provisions… The poetic hyperbole of Kachyňa´s feature blurs the boundary between the symbolic gesture of resistance and the real act of “fattening” the sons weakened by the misery of war. The overall effect is reinforced by the beautiful camera work of Vladimír Smutný and the masterful acting of Karel Heřmánek (Leo), Marta Vančurová (the mother) and Rudolf Hrušínský (Prošek). Popper’s two older sons are portrayed by Jiří Stach and Jan Jirásek, while Marek Vatler plays the part of the youngest son, referred to as “Prdelka” (“Little buttocks”, a term of affection used by Czechs for small children).
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Film data

About a film

Production year 1986
Countries Czechoslovakia
Categories film
Genres comedy, sad comedy
Form feature
Duration 91 min
Director Karel Kachyňa
Cast Karel Heřmánek, Marta Vančurová, Rudolf Hrušínský, Jiří Krampol, Lubor Tokoš, Dana Vlková
Director of photography Vladimír Smutný
Screenplay Karel Kachyňa, Dušan Hamšík
Editor Jiří Brožek
Production designer Karel Lier, Oldřich Okáč
Music Luboš Fišer
Sound designer Pavel Jelínek