Diamonds of the Night

Diamonds of the Night

Format: DVD

Release date: 10 May 2010

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Jan Němec

Writers: Jan Němec, Arnost Lustig

Original title: Démanty noci

Cast: Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera, Irma Bischofova

Czechoslovakia, 1964

64 mins

Diamonds of the Night is a very closely focused film, and its focus is the moment-to-moment bodily experience of two young Czechs on the run from the Nazis. At the same time it is loose in structure. The protagonists’ occurrent experiences are intermingled with sights and sounds from their memories and imaginations. The material is selected and edited apparently more for expressive than for narrative purposes. Various distancing and disorientating techniques characteristic of the 1960s New Wave are deployed. Most prominent of these are temporal fragmentation and repetition: there is so much of the latter that a 64-minute film is compiled out of less than an hour’s worth of material. In addition, sound levels go up and down, light effects include overexposure and dazzle, at certain moments of tension the focus of the camera is too close for us to see what’s going on, and towards the climax of the story there are jarring switches of mood and emotional tone. The rough monochrome cinematography imparts a stark realist feel. The mundanity of much of what we see adds to the impression that this is not a story being enacted, but unplanned events being observed.

The film is driven nevertheless by a grim sense of purpose. It certainly makes you feel what is shown, which is something pretty harsh. The ordeal that bodily existence becomes for the fugitives is vividly conveyed in small details - the state of their feet, their pitiful brushwood shelter, the discovery that they can’t eat the longed-for bread because their mouths are too sore. This is a bleak, numb film, almost wordless, turned inward to lay bare the experience of humans in extremis. There is no refuge taken in detachment from the subject matter, such as often makes the New Wave seem cynical.

Peter Momtchiloff

Read a review of Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (1966).