When lists of important filmmakers’ most impressive debut films are published, they rarely contain Ivan Passer’s “Intimate Lighting,” a title that deserves an automatic listing. Given that Passer is one of the leading voices of the much-lauded “Czech New Wave” of the ’60s, the oversight is all the more egregious.
But it’s not just Passer’s debut that needs renewed recognition, his unique voice and distinctive approach to storytelling is overdue for a serious critical re-evaluation. For my money, the best film about the tragic debacle in Vietnam is not “Apocalypse Now” or “The Deer Hunter,” but Passer’s “Cutter’s Way,” a film set not in the jungle battlefields of that conflict but on the sun-splashed streets of Santa Barbara.
Thanks to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, there’s a chance to catch Passer’s brilliant first film on the big screen — an event sure to whet appetites for more. It’s an event sure to whet the appetites for more of the Czech master’s mordant, witty dissections of human nature and edgy expansions of genre filmmaking.
Below is the original review of “Intimate Lighting” by Gene Moskowitz that appeared in Variety in 1966.
Another unusual Czech directorial talent is unveiled in this first film. It deals with a little incident that is probed for deeper revelations of human character and yet maintains a comic balance on human comportment. Smart handling here of a non-pro cast, which emerges larger than life. Pic is a diverting and extremely entertaining one, with foreign specialized and arty chances there. But this calls for a hard sell.
A classical musician and his modern girlfriend, much younger than himself, go to visit a school chum of his since he has a solo concert date in his village. Film takes place during this visit. It lightly deals with simple people who still have simmering tensions. The friend, if content generally, feels a loss because of this he and the soloist and his girl have little spats.
A dinner at which the choice cuts are passed about turns into almost a slapstick affair. The two old friends get drunk together. It’s all well fashioned and paced by Ivan Passer’s deceptively simple direction.
No need here for flashy cutting, frozen shots and space continuity. It is a return to a well worked-out yet seemingly spontaneous situation comedy. The characters are allowed to grow and reveal themselves in little scenes that are never gratuitous. The clear camerawork, brisk editing and successful serio-comic relationships shed light on these ordinary people.
It is the comic observance without self-indulgence, the guileless playing and the directorial wit and comic drollery, that give this gentle comedy its risible effects. Its very simplicity calls for careful handling abroad for best results.
Director: Ivan Passer
Writers: Ivan Passer, Jaroslav Papousek & Václav Sasek
Cinematographers: Miroslav Ondricek, Josef Strecha