Tender Barbarian

Petr Koliha, 1989



Any search for the origins of Petr Koliha's bittersweet 1989 comedy must lead to a Bohumil Hrabal novella that described the Prague district of Libeň as it was in the 1950s. Hrabal’s text was adapted for the screen by Václav Nývlt, one of the most prominent adapters of the great writer's works – he also wrote screenplays for Perličky na dně (Pearls at the Bottom, 1965) and Skřivánci na niti (Skylarks on the String, 1969). His screenplay for Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England) was never used. Nývlt also adapted a number of Hrabal’s works for the stage. The protagonist of Něžný barbar is Hrabal’s friend, painter and graphic artist Vladimír Boudník (1924–1968), who had actually played himself in Perličky na dně (in the story Automat Svět [World Café] directed by Věra Chytilová). In this film, Boudník plays one of three men who manage to maintain their free, bohemian lifestyle, despite the oppressive atmosphere of the 1950s. Boudník, Doktor (Hrabal’s alter ego) and philosopher Egon Bondy (here presented with his real name, Zbyněk Fišer) hold witty debates on the true nature of art. Vladimír works at engineering firm ČKD, where he meets and falls in love with a cafeteria server, Tereza, and finds a place to display his original, misunderstood art pieces realised in the spirit of explosionalism. When Tereza becomes tired of living in squalor, she leaves Vladimír, who tragically ends his own life, but lives on in his friend’s memories... Nývlt and Koliha did not try to emulate Hrabal’s wild, “unfilmable” style. Instead, they opted for a classic, slightly poetic view, focusing on the three extravagant protagonists and other quaint characters on the fringes of their lives. The director placed his bets on three main performers: Bolek Polívka (Vladimír), Arnošt Goldflam (Egon) and Jiří Menzel (the Doctor). Menzel is of course the director known as the chief adapter of Hrabal’s works. Ivana Chýlková plays Tereza.
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About a film

film_production_year 1989
film_countries Czechoslovakia
film_genres narrative
film_form feature
film_duration 88 min
film_director Petr Koliha
film_cast Boleslav Polívka, Jiří Menzel, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivana Chýlková, Evelyna Steimarová, Valerie Kaplanová
film_director_of_photography Vladimír Smutný
film_screenplay Václav Nývlt, Petr Koliha
film_film_editor Jiří Brožek
film_production_designer Zbyněk Hloch
film_music_composed_by Miki Jelínek
film_sound_designer Jiří Moudrý