DVD Review: All My Good Countrymen

Introducing a group of friends and their various nicknames puts the bonds of community and family at the heart of Vojtěch Jasný’s 1968 film All My Good Countrymen from the start. A voiceover describes their role and status in the village; Jořka Pyřk (Vladimír Menšík) known as Lithpy due to his lisp, Franta the tailor (Václav Babka), Bertin the postman (Pavel Pavlovský) and František the farmer (Radoslav Brzobohatý) will all become significant in the events that change their community over the film’s twenty year timeline. They’re portrayed with lightness and affection within a pastoral idyll that will come to have control and governance imposed upon it. AMGC 8All My Good Countrymen was Jasný’s nineteenth film, and followed on the success of When the Cat Comes (1963) in continuing the director’s international acclaim. It was however later banned due to its portrayal of the Communist system and Jasný was for a period forced into exile. The film was a long-gestating and highly personal project based on memories the director’s mother shared about village life, and there’s an impressionist tendency to the way the people and landscape are shown, connecting characters and places but remaining ever so slightly removed from the subject. Jasný covers the period from 1945 to 1958 in chapters that follow the seasons, with an epilogue set in 1968 during the Prague Spring, and it’s the treatment of time that’s one of the film’s most beautiful elements. AMGC 9Characters come and go, the local council persists in attempting to recruit František to join ‘the Cooperative’ but the land still needs plowed and festive celebrations continue according to the season. The elderly of the village appear set apart from events, commenting upon their younger counterparts with the wisdom of experience. AMGC 1For someone unfamiliar with Jasný, but an appreciator of the Czech output of this period from directors such as Jan Nemec and Štefan Uher, the short film Bohemian Rhapsody (1969) included with Second Run’s DVD release, is a delight. Set in the same village as All My Good Countrymen, the landscape is again a central focus here, opening with a sequence of wide shots of the roads and paths that cut across the villages surrounding fields. A brass-dominant score shifts from a serious to a tone of jollity, as crowds both celebratory and funereal gather in the countryside. In fact the duration of the film’s fifteen minutes is almost exclusively focused on crowds, beginning with those of a closely knitted community and later contrasting with the crowded industrial city. It’s a succinct and beautifully realised statement about progress and human relationships.