Starci na chmelu

This week in Mailbox we quote from the annual listeners' competition entries by the two finalists for the English section, John Pastier and Elke Semerad.

Welcome to Mailbox.

Two weeks ago I promised to get back to the results of Radio Prague's annual listeners' contest. This year, Radio Prague listeners and readers were asked to write a few lines about a Czech film they remember most fondly. The results were announced at the very end of June and as we said two weeks ago, Ms Klara Pedisic from Croatia who listens to Radio Prague's Czech language broadcasts was chosen as the overall winner. Klara's prize is a week at the CMC Hotel near Prague and a return ticket to the city courtesy of the central European airline Sky Europe.

You had a chance to hear an excerpt from Klara's entry translated into English earlier this month. What remains now is to get back to the two finalists for the English section, John Pastier from the United States and Elke Semerad from Canada. Here is an extract from John Pastier's entry:

Obchod na korze
"This is not an easy question, since the Czechs' film-making abilities are every bit as evolved as their talents for music, tennis, and brewing. Living in America, I have managed to see about sixty films from Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, and choosing just one from this cornucopia is difficult.

At first I thought that my favorite would be the very first that I had seen - The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, 1965), for who can deny the tragic intensity, moral force, and superb craftsmanship of this deservedly Academy Award-winning masterpiece?

Intimni osvetleni
But after some reflection, I realized that the one closest to my heart was a far more modest effort, Ivan Passer's Intimate Lighting (Intimni osvetleni, 1966). While lacking the profundity and grand themes of Shop on Main Street, it may be a more universal exploration of the human condition. After all, most of us lead unremarkable lives, and the fabric of our existence is woven of commonplace events and simple pleasures.

Passer's inexpensively-made film, an overlooked little masterpiece within the 1960's Czechoslovak New Wave, captures this sweet ordinariness with a knowing and sympathetic eye. Using lesser-known actors and untrained amateurs, he celebrates the rhythms of ordinary life in a provincial setting, enriched by long-standing friendship, a deep love of music in many forms, and a few drinks. [...]

[The film] manages to celebrate uneventfulness right up to the end, concluding hilariously and wordlessly with one of the most simple yet brilliant sight gags in the history of film. In its wryness, humanity, and gentle acceptance of life lived small, Intimate Lighting strikes me as a quintessentially Czech work of art."

An excerpt from John Pastier's competition entry. And this is what Elke Semerad from Canada wrote as her answer to the question "Which Czech film do you remember most fondly and why?".

Starci na chmelu
"My grandfather was a mostly two dimensional character. I knew him only by a walletfull of fading and fraying black and white pictures, one colour photo that sat too high atop a bookshelf for me to get a closeup look, and from stories my mother told me. [...]

"But I remember the first time I saw him move and speak like a living person, in 24 frames per second. If you scan ahead to about 20 minutes in the 1964 movie Starci na chmelu, there he is, playfully scolding a teenage boy to take care of his girl. It's not his real son or his real wife. But that is really my Deda Vrata, broad, handsome and alive inside a story world he created.

Starci na chmelu
"Starci introduced me to a culture that was in my blood but pages away in the atlas from where I was growing up in Canada. It represented a time in the history of Czechoslovakia and of Czech cinema. Just hearing the language spoken by voices other than my own parents' took me to another world, so far away but so familiar.[...]

"Seeing Deda there also allowed me to imagine another world where my grandfather was alive and loved me. I would imaging Deda playing poker with fellow passionate artists boasting about his grandchildren. I pretended we played tennis together on red clay courts. I imagined my grandfather taking my small hand in his and walking to the park together, telling me stories of make-believe all the while. He died before I was born, but the film Starci na chmelu was my first memory and strongest connection to my Deda, Vrata Blazek."

Just a reminder that you can read the complete entries by Elke Semerad and John Pastier at

As every month, four of you have a chance to win small presents from Radio Prague if you answer correctly our monthly competition question:

This month we would like to know the name of the Czech-born psychiatrist and psychologist who was born in Prague in 1931 and is considered to be one of the founders of transpersonal psychology. He devoted his career to exploring altered states of consciousness, first using LSD and later special breathing techniques.

Your answers should reach us by the end of July at [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099, Prague, Czech Republic which are also the addresses for your questions and comments.