1960s “documentary style” take on Anthropoid set to screen in new digitised version

'The Assassination'

The Assasination (Atentát) is a unique 1964 depiction of the killing of acting Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovak parachutists during World War II. It has been newly digitised by the Czech National Film Archive (NFA) and is being screened this Wednesday evening at Prague’s Ponrepo cinema. NFA collections curator Marie Barešová says that the digitisation was made on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Heydrich’s assassination.

“The idea behind this film was to reconstruct the events that led to and followed the single most important action of our resistance movement during the Second World War in a documentary style.

“The film aims to be descriptive in a documentary way and to depict the events in as accurate a way as possible.”

I read that the parachutists in the film are even referred to by the pseudonyms that they would have used at the time, so Jan Kubiš is, for example, Otto Strnad. The film also won two awards. Tell me, how successful was it at the time of its release?

“It was actually very successful, both domestically and internationally. Many people went to see the film here in cinemas and it was also successfully received at film festivals.

Photo: National Film Archive

“I would say that part of its success was also down to the fact that it came out two decades after the events that it depicts, so it was very recent.

“Many of the people who watched it would have remembered those events and the horror that took place in Czechoslovakia afterwards [the subsequent Nazi crackdown] during the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. It was a very vivid memory for them as well.”

Could you also tell us something about the director of this film, Jiří Sequens? He is of course famous for also directing a very famous Communist-era TV Series in Czechoslovakia called Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. What kind of a director was he?

“I would say that an important aspect about him is that he was one of the most politically involved filmmakers. He studied in Moscow shortly after the end of WWII, so he was very much influenced by ideology when he entered cinema and the historical situation.

“However, it is also necessary to point out that he also went on to study in Paris later.

“In any case he was mainly interested in political topics as well as in recent Czechoslovak history.

'Assassination' | Photo: National Film Archive

“And as you already mentioned his most famous creation was this controversial series about Major Zeman which reconstructs various post-war criminal cases through the dominant, communist, ideological prism at the time.”

Is this ideological perspective also very much noticeable in The Assassination as well?

“Much less. It needs to be stressed that The Assasination chose to depict a non-communist resistance movement, which was very daring at the time. So just this by itself is very important.

“Secondly, since Sequens really wanted to portray the events truthfully, and the question of how much he succeeded in this respect is a whole different topic, but since this was his idea and his aim it was not as ideologically heavy as his other work.”

The newly digitised 4k version of The Assassination will be screened with subtitles this Wednesday at 7pm in Ponrepo Cinema, Prague. Dr Barešová says that the new version of the film is currently only available in Digital Cinema Package format. However, she expects it will soon be released on disc as well.

The digitisation of the film was realised by the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in collaboration with the National Film Archive and the Czech Film Fund thanks to a donation by Milada Kučerová and Eduard Kučera, the co-founder of AVAST.