Black Peter (Czechoslovakia, 1964):
(Cerný Petr)

Besotted with Truffaut (from carousing youngsters to concluding freeze-frame), this early Miloš Forman feature is virtually a template for the budding Czech New Wave -- observational humor, cozy homeliness, and anecdotal slenderness cloaking political allegory. Also, the larvae-hero: here wispy, 16-year-old Peter (Ladislav Jakim), patrolling grocery aisles for shoplifters, hitting on a tomboyish classmate (Pavla Martinkova) and playing audience to his father's (Jan Vostrcil) old-school monologues. And, of course, failing on all three accounts. Anchoring the characters' skit-like travails is the improvised vérité surveying of a provincial dance, with people bobbing on the floor, getting drunk, razzing each other, breaking up and getting back together -- a rough draft for the later, more elaborately telephotographed reveries of Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball. A nest for future movement staples (Jaroslav Papousek penned the script, Ivan Passer was assistant director), the movie's gentle tone doesn't exclude social critique. At its heart lies a mutually stunted generational conflict, with the young protagonist's inability (or refusal?) to take up his father's basically reactionary assertiveness leading to little more than slackerdom -- cultural paralysis segueing naturally into the old man's hands-in-the-air final shot. Even in his two-sided criticism, however, Forman's view is free of cruelty. Jakim's surreptitious twist rehearsal and Vostrcil's jovial appreciation of a naked Venus print are merely two of the inclusively human moments that bound, rather than divide, young and old. With Vladimír Pucholt, Bozena Matuskova, and Frantisek Kosina. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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