The Cassandra Cat

Vojtěch Jasný

About film

Just like other films produced in the same period, Vojtěch Jasný’s early works celebrated the “building of socialism”. They were mainly documentaries, which as one of the first FAMU graduates since the end of the 1940s, he made in collaboration with Karel Kachyňa. During a tour with the Army Art Ensemble, they filmed for instance several optimistic portraits of life in China.

Jasný’s live action debut was a military film titled September Nights (Zářijové noci, 1956) based on Pavel Kohout’s stage play of the same name. A year later, Jasný wrote the first synopsis for his modern fairy tale about desire and justice, titled The Cassandra Cat; it was, however, only released in 1963.

In the meantime, Jasný made a poetic film titled Desire (Touha, 1958), which helped to establish his position in the Czechoslovak cinema of the 1950s, and a comedy titled The Pilgrimage to the Holy Virgin (Procesí k panence, 1961). Both films foreshadowed The Cassandra Cat – Desire with its lyrical humanism and Pilgrimage with its humour and satirical undertones. The Cassandra Cat takes place in a picturesque Bohemian town (the film was shot on location in Telč). A circus arrives accompanied by a magician, an acrobat named Diana, and a cat with the ability to reveal adults’ hidden character traits. When confronted with the penetrating gaze of the magical animal, people glow in different colours, reflecting their true feelings: liars turn violet, lovers turn red, thieves turn grey…

But when some villainous people kidnap the magical cat, children from the local school set out to rescue it.

The script was co-written by Jiří Brdečka and Jan Werich, who portrayed the main dual role of the wise narrator and the magician. It was his first bigger film opportunity since Once Upon a Time, There Was a King (Byl jednou jeden král, 1954). Thanks to Werich’s jollity and Vojtěch Jasný’s sense for visuality, the timeless parable about hypocritical morals still appeals to audiences today.

Jasný created the film’s artistic concept in close collaboration with DoP Jaroslav Kučera. The length of the production was affected by many innovative visual effects requiring, among other things, a special colour make-up. Kučera’s sorcery with colour material preceded the no less remarkable optical tricks he used in Věra Chytilová’s films Daisies (Sedmikrásky, 1966) and Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce stromů rajských jíme, 1966).

Jasný’s colourful satirical morality full of resourceful puns premiered in May 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival. Along with the Japanese film Harakiri (1963), it received the Special Jury Prize. It also won the C.S.T. Technical Grand Prize. In July that same year, it was screened in Locarno.

In September 1963, Jasný’s féerie debuted in Czechoslovak cinemas, where it attracted 1,310,291 viewers by year’s end. The message and technical qualities of The Cassandra Cat were also praised by critics. But after 1968, the acclaimed work found itself on a list of banned films that were to be screened no longer. Still in Czechoslovakia, Jasný finished his long-anticipated historic fresco All My Good Countrymen (Všichni dobří rodáci, 1969), his last domestic film for a long time. In 1970, he went into exile for political reasons.

Contemporary audiences have a chance to see a digitally restored version of the film recreating the effect the original had on viewers when it premiered. The film was restored in the film restoration laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, under the supervision of the National Film Archive.

The source visual material was the intermediate positive stored in the National Film Archive, and the source sound material for sound digitalisation was taken from film copies with magnetic sound recordings stored in Filmoteka Narodowa – Instytut Audiowizualny and the National Film Institute Hungary – Film Archive, as well as the original sound negative stored in the National Film Archive.

The digitally restored version was premiered in July 2021 at the Cannes Film Festival.

Martin Šrajer

Filmographic data

Vojtěch Jasný

Jiří Brdečka, Vojtěch Jasný, Jan Werich

Jaroslav Kučera

Svatopluk Havelka

Jan Werich, Emília Vášáryová, Vlastimil Brodský, Jiří Sovák, Vladimír Menšík, Jiřina Bohdalová, Karel Effa, Vlasta Chramostová

Filmové studio Barrandov, 101 min.


“Different countries, different morals, different ‘ideologies.’ In this film by Vojtěch Jasný, the story is a noble and cheerful one - and it offered a very pleasant relaxation to our severely tested nerves. The story, invented one day by a good, old, bearded gentleman, is a kind of fable criticizing life in a small Czechoslovakian town... Around these antics, a multi-coloured, narrative work in the rhythm of comedy-ballet was created. The colours are nice, the ideas are funny, the author is talented, and if you like this kind of level-headed entertainment, you will get a humorous spectacle that you can enjoy without being tormented by its tediousness and naivety.”

Yvonne Baby, Le Monde, 13th May 1963.


“A colourful romp, a philosophical and magical tale, a surreal ballet about a wise cat who has a gift for seeing people as they are beneath their façades. A rather heterogeneous, often disjointed work, which nevertheless exudes an original peculiarity.”

Louis Chauvet, Le Figaro, 13th May 1963.


“The deep and wise philosophy is not only interpreted in The Cassandra Cat, but also co-sounded and amplified by Jan Werich, an artist who is very close to the director in this respect. Being so distinctive, both as a person and as an actor, and starring in a double role and as a commentator, he undoubtedly contributes to the unity of the work and to overcoming the dangers to which Jasný was exposed by alternating narrative planes and different genre elements, using a wide range of cinematic means of expression, and constantly infusing reality with fantasy and symbolism.”

Jiří Pittermann, Kino 18, 1963, no. 21, p. 7.


“But in the end - today, we can say it out loud, since Jasný will move on - it can’t be helped: in its criticality, it is a very tame, very general work. It deals with some negative human qualities in too loose a social context, lacking a more specific connection with our reality. There is hypocrisy, ‘an sich’, sycophancy, ‘an sich’, directorial narrow-mindedness and arrogance, ‘an sich’, etc.”

Ivan Soeldner, Film a doba 10, 1964, no. 4, p. 201.



Director’s explication

The Cassandra Cat will be a fairy tale, but its heroes are neither a Jack, nor a prince, nor an evil king, but our contemporaries from the year of 1962. I think that sometimes, it is better to tell certain truths in a fairy tale - it is much more poetic, it has more impact on the audience. With my film I want to speak out against human indifference that is extremely harmful to us, and against the hypocrisy that exists in all of us. And I chose the form of a modern fairy tale to express all of this.

The script has undergone a number of changes. All that remains of the first version is the intention and the main characters. Significant changes occurred when I came up with the colour plan. (...) Colours play a dramatic role in key situations, and in those scenes where people will be coloured according to their characters, everything else must be subordinated to the arrangement. Therefore, for example, the colours of people’s clothes, of the rooms inside houses and apartments, the colours of walls, pavements, and nature, they all will be muted so that the colouring of the cat’s eyes comes out distinctly. In a nutshell: the other scenes must be coloured so as not to drown out the drama of the main situations. The final product will still require a lot of work and thought, especially from the director of photography Jaroslav Kučera, because we want the viewer to have the impression that the colour radiates from the persons. We try to make sure that colours serve a special purpose and accent the drama in the film.

Many of the scenes will have a certain choreography and will be almost pantomimed (not in a theatrical sense, though). It is complicated which is why we have rehearsals. For exteriors I chose the town of Telč. It has a peculiar architecture, it fits the whole story, and its colours are stylized in a certain way.

Vojtěch Jasný

Kino 17, 1962, no. 9, p. 9.