Intimate Lighting

English Title: Intimate Lighting

Original Title: Intimní osvětlení

Country of Origin: Czech Republic

Studio: Ceskoslovenský Státní Film

Director: Ivan Passer

Producer(s): Frantisek Sandr

Screenplay: Jaroslav Papoušek, Václav Šašek, Ivan Passer

Cinematographer: Josef Střecha, Miroslav Ondříček

Editor: Jiřina Lukešová

Runtime: 71 minutes

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Language: Czech

Starring/Cast: Karel Blažek, Zdeněk Bezušek, Věra Křesadlová, Jan Vostrčil, Jaroslava Štědrá, Vlastimila Vlková, Karel Uhlík, Miroslav Cvrk, Dagmar Ředinová

Year: 1965

Volume: East European


Prague musician Petr and his girlfriend Štěpa come to visit Karel (nicknamed Bambas), the headmaster of a School of Music in a small South-Bohemian town, and stay with him and his family from Friday afternoon until Sunday lunchtime. There is a rehearsal of the local orchestra which is preparing for a concert in which Petr is to perform as a soloist. The visitors from Prague are also invited to a funeral where Karel and his father-in-law are playing. There is a family meal, during which various minor faux pas occur, and in the evening, Karel, Petr, the father-in-law and a local chemist perform Mozart´s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in a quartet for their own enjoyment. In the night, Petr and Karel get drunk and try to become travelling musicians, but their abortive attempt ends just with a hangover. Ultimately, on Sunday at lunchtime, the grandmother of the family serves her home-made eggnog, with humorous results.


In response to the ‘heroic’, propagandistic films and other works of art from the Stalinist 1950s, bombastically extolling the virtues of the communist regime installed in Czechoslovakia in 1948, writers, film-makers and other artists produced casual, anti-heroic works in the liberalising 1960s, concentrating on the ‘poetry of the everyday’.


Both the setting and the characters of Ivan Passer’s Intimní osvětlení/Intimate Lighting are deliberately ‘non-filmic’ in the sense that they consciously avoid any hint of artifice and glamour. All the characters are played by non-actors, and the film was shot in a real house, not in a studio (the limitations of which are immediately apparent in the restricted camera work). Occasionally, the shooting style makes the film feel almost like a home movie, but by opting for this unpretentious style, the filmmakers are making a statement that they wish to avoid anything that might be deemed inauthentic.


This is a film almost completely without a ‘narrative’, yet it is incredibly absorbing. How is it that the film sustains our interest? The film-makers draw a detailed, understanding, profound and loving portrait of all the members of the family and of Bambas’ Prague friends. In line with the poetics of Czech art of the 1960s, the film keeps looking for ‘Pearls in the Deep’ (as Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal phrased it at the time); signs of talent, originality and uniqueness in each of the ordinary protagonists. An important example of this is the scene in a local pub during a social gathering following a funeral, when an ordinary country man who has been drinking liquor suddenly stands up and spontaneously bursts into song, and everyone around him joins in. Serious, classical music also plays an important role in the lives of the protagonists, but there is no pretentiousness attached to the presence of such a medium in the film. Indeed, through its use Intimate Lighting communicates another major Central-European notion of the 1960s: namely that art can be a palliative for all life’s ills; that ultimately it can even be a shield against death. Music stands in this film as a metaphor for art and creation, something that can be connected to life and family as much as making music.  


The energy of the film is sustained primarily through the dialogue. Like everything else in the picture, the conversations are casual and ordinary, yet almost every statement is subtly ironic and borders on the absurd. ‘That’s Sundays for you’, is the final remark in the film, made by the grandfather in the last scene, when everyone is standing round the table on the house’s terrace, their heads turned back and with glasses full of stiff eggnog pressed to their lips, hoping that it might run into their mouths. At the same time, the film can also be read as an existentialist statement on entrapment. What can be done when you find yourself in the middle of your life? When you have built a house for your family as a result of enormous physical effort; when you have the position of a local headmaster and at home you have a wife and several young children.


Intimate Lighting records the relentless passing of time and the position of human beings within it. It is extremely realistic in its loving attention to little, often comic, details, and incredibly the film was banned by the communist regime even though there is not a single political statement or discernible subtext. It was possibly seen as too free, too independent. It ignored the Communist Party completely, showing that people’s lives simply go on regardless.

Author of this review: Jan Čulík