Before film adaptations of the works of Bohumil Hrabal became the domain of director Jiří Menzel, the legendary author inspired other members of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Perličky na dně (Pearls at the Bottom, 1965), is just one such example – an anthology in which five freshmen directors convincingly demonstrated their capabilities. Alongside Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Evald Schorm, Věra Chytilová and Jaromil Jireš, director Ivan Passer also made his own similarly-oriented short film, namely the Hrabal adaptation Fádní odpoledne (A Dull Afternoon, 1964), released in cinemas independently. One other similar project, which also failed to make it into 1965’s film anthology, is the half-hour Hrabal etude Sběrné surovosti (Cruelties of Life) filmed by the then rookie director Juraj Herz. The director had the opportunity of working with Hrabal to adapt the screenplay for this project. The story Baron Prášil (Baron Műnchausen, 1961) from the Pearls at the Bottom collection is transformed on screen into an unconventional, raw, surrealistic study, with its humorously morbid traits serving as a precursor to Herz’s future horror-themed films. The bizarre story takes place in a paper collection facility, dominated by its quirky paper buyer Hanťa. This talkative man serves as both the witness and initiator of countless humorous, embarrassing and even moving events. The loud chatterbox and his endless made-up stories are becoming an annoyance to his boss, the head of the collection facility, the refined Mr. Bohoušek. Hanťa’ has no compunction in liquidating some unwanted statues from a nearby church. Fortunately, his eccentricity doesn’t go so far as to want to add young rascal Pepíček to the paper press. In the spirit of New Wave experimentation, director Herz casts this film with non-actors. The performances of Václav Halama as Hanťa, and František Ketzek as the “comrade boss” help give the film a sense of realism. Hrabal’s Hanťa character would appear again in the nostalgic tragicomedy Příliš hlučná samota (Too Loud a Solitude, 1995) from director Věra Caisová. In the sleek co-production, the character is played by popular French actor Philippe Noiret.
Hanťa, the peculiar and noisy employee of a scrap-yard, likes spreading various made-up stories around his neighbourhood. In an environment in which previously recognized values are no longer worth a penny, however, absurd situations arise even without his fictions. Hanťa's friend, the verger of St Tadeáš's Church, takes down the thank you messages written by parishioners and screws them up in a different place. The head of the scrap-yard, the refined Mr Bohoušek - complains that Hanťa has once again been spreading tales about him. People come to dump old paper. Little Pepíček has put his mother's accounts, on which she has worked for two days, into the scrap. The hysterical woman alternately slaps her son and scrabbles through the huge mound of paper. An old woman is furious when they offer her just one crown for love letters from her youth. The verger sends Bohoušek discarded carved wooden statues of the saints. Hanťa persuades him first to cut them into small pieces. Bohoušek is courting the frail Miss Hermínka. Hanťa gets a bawling out from a fat elderly barwoman because he has been telling people she is pregnant. But in return for several old romantic novels the woman forgives him. Little Pepíček has got lost, and Hanťa nearly puts him through the crusher with the old paper. Evening is falling, Hanťa is showering, Bohoušek is piecing together the parts of the statues...
The film was distributed to Czech cinemas in December 1965 along with the West German feature film Secret of the Chinese Carnation. It was new premiered in June 1998 with the Slovak film The Sweet Games of Last Summer (1969) by Juraj Herz.
zaměstnanec sběrny Hanťa
zaměstnankyně sběrny Mařenka
zákaznice, maminka kluka Pepíčka
zákaznice z kina
zákazník s koši
veterinář na kontrole koček
Bohumil Hrabal (Baron Prášil – povídka ze sbírky Perlička na dně)
Josef Calta (vedoucí výpravy)
The Junk Shop / Cruelties of Life
17 December 1965
Although the medium-length film Cruelities of Life is one of the most succesful adaptations of a Bohumil Hrabal book, it was not included in the film Pearls in the Depths and was not put on general release. (1998)