The only film made by Slovak director Ivan Balaďa for the silver screen is an allegory, usually listed under its abbreviated title of Archa bláznů (Ark of Fools). A native of Bratislava, Balaďa made numerous documentaries and feature films for TV (such as Smrť sa volá Engelchen [Death is Called Engelchen, 1963], Tri gaštanové kone [Three Bay Horses, 1967], Oči plne snehu [Eyes Full of Snow, 1983] and the three-part drama Biela voči oblohe [White against the Sky, 1986]). He also made a fairytale TV film O živé vodě (On the Water of Life, 1987) and a TV miniseries Největší z Pierotů (The Greatest of Pierrots) which was inspired by František Kožík’s novel of the same name and aired in 1990. Archa bláznů (Ark of Fools) also stands out among Balaďa’s works for exactly the wrong reason; it halted his career as a cinema director for good. Loosely based on the short allegorical story Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov (1892), with a screenplay penned by Lubor Dohnal, the film was a too thinly veiled caricature of contemporary politics, despite its adherence to the book’s original time-frame and setting. The making of the film was halted in 1970 and the film material was not restored until 20 years later. Although Archa bláznů was completed along the lines of the original concept, the author’s satisfaction would never be complete. Chekhov’s allegory tells the story of senior medical officer Andrey Ragin who attempts to transform a dilapidated psychiatric ward that has been entrusted to his care. However, he is largely unable to help his patients and beyond that his own demeanour raises suspicions that he is mentally ill himself. Ragin therefore ends up among his patients and dies before he can carry through his ideas of liberty and equality. A sensitive man of conscience thus finds himself at the receiving end of persecution by a totalitarian society… The lead role of Ragin in the film was assumed by the now almost forgotten actor Zlatomír Vacek while the patient Gromov was played by then 24-year-old folk singer Vladimír Merta.
The chief physician of a neglected hospital somewhere in a backwood Russian guberniya is the bright Andrei Ragin. He runs into vulgarity, ugliness, dirt, anger, lack of competence and hypocrisy on a daily basis. Faced with this reality he constantly experiences a sense of downfall because he in fact cannot help his patients. In pavilion No. 6 serving mentally ill patients, Ragin meets the young Gromoff who suffers from persecution mania and a desire for freedom. Ragin performs his duties but gradually locks himself away, and not even the arrivals of guests and the loving care of his housekeeper, Daria Pavlovna, do anything to help. He is even visited by the town notables, headed by Lev Trophimovich, on his birthday. His behaviour soon becomes the subject of committee proceedings chaired by Trophimovich. Ragin is then removed from his leading position and is replaced by the incompetent and uneducated intern Khobotoff. He takes Ragin to a pavilion, reportedly to see a patient, but Ragin soon realizes that he himself becomes the patient in the ruinous shack. He cannot leave no matter how strong he and Gromoff hammer the gate; the guard beats them severely. The tortured Ragin begins to sing and the rest of the fools join him. Toward the evening, Ragin dies and the muzhiks carry him to a chapel by his arms and legs. "And there he was / just there on the table / with his eyes open wide / and the moon silvered him at nights."
The filming started in 1969 and 1970. It was subsequently halted and it finished only as late as in 1990; copyright 1990.
šéflékař Andrej Jefimyč Ragin
pacient Ivan Dmitrič Gromov
Michail Averjanyč Goljubkin
sekundář Jevgenij Fjodoryč Chobotov
Marja Prokofjevna, Chobotovova žena
felčar Sergej Sergejevič
asistentka Naděžda Osipovna zvaná Rusalka
Jefrim, Varvařin druh
hospodyně Darja Pavlovna
žena burcující pacienty
Lina, dcera Chobotovových
pacient s řády
Ivan Frič, Věra Houšková
Anton Pavlovič Čechov (Pavilon č. 6 /Palata No. 6/ – povídka)
Jaroslav Chytrý, Eva Slívová
Archa bláznů aneb Vyprávění z konce života
The Ark of Fools
Pavilón č. 6
1 November 1990