Living in a Moral Void

A discussion on new documentary Doomed Beauty by Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna

Doomed Beauty

On the corner of Palacký and Jungmannova Street stands a house where in the 1930s, the film star Lída Baarová used to meet with General Radola Gajda, one of her many affluent acquaintances. More than 60 years later, the downstairs café hosted three reviewers of Doomed Beauty by Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna who tried to find answer to the question raised by the film – what was the main cause of Lída Baarová’s fall? Among those present were Tomáš Hrubý (TH), producer of Gottland, Stanislava Přádná (SP), lecturer at the Department of Film Studies of Charles University, and musician, historian and author of a book focusing on Lída Baarová’s love affairs Radek Žitný (RŽ).

TH – Two films focusing on the life of Lída Baarová have recently been released in cinemas. This very fact indicates that her story plays an iconic role in the eyes of Czech audiences. Baarová teaches us a lesson on the dilemmas that define our history – collaboration, striving for world importance and the ever-present Faustian dilemma of success vs. guilt. The rollercoaster of Baarová’s life does not cease to fascinate us and the film manages to capture it with great skill and purity of expression.

SP: Given the fact that Helena Třeštíková’s and Jakub Hejna’s documentary reflects on this national complex, I somehow expected a much clearer authorial voice, albeit it would have seemed as a daring interpretation of Baarová’s story. But it’s clear that the authors naturally gave preference to documentary objectivity. But Doomed Beauty is not another observational documentary – a genre in which Třeštíková excels and has a monopoly. It is rather an investigative documentary of its own kind. However, to be able to introduce a new perspective, it would have to provide space to different voices, to initiate a discussion. No matter how valuable documentary contribution this film may bring, Baarová’s moral case remains rather blurred.

“Watching Doomed Beauty is like sitting on a sofa and listening to Baarová telling her own story"

: Any reminder of the figure of Lída Baarová, especially so sophisticated and well-structured, is highly valuable. Any uninitiated observer will probably make a decent picture of Baarová, but in my view, the film’s informative value is very low. Some aspects of her life have been completely omitted. Just like Filip Renč’s fictional film, the documentary also failed to show the crucial part of her “moral” fall – not her affair with Goebbels, but her relationship with Bohumil Perlík, who accused Baarová of having reported him to the Gestapo 1939, thus being accountable for his imprisonment. The available documents from the period don’t even mention her relationship with the minister of propaganda.

TH: Watching the film is like sitting on a sofa and listening to Baarová for two hours telling her own life story. The film allows space for the viewers to decide how reliable her story is, which topics she might have avoided and which, in turn, she brought to the forefront. The effect of this method of narration consists in not drawing explicit conclusions, but it is deficient in that it does not bring up some crucial topics which Baarová herself never articulated but which play a key role in order to obtain a complete picture of her life.

Doomed Beauty

SP: Unlike the original, shorter version of the film that was made using the same footage in the 1990s, Doomed Beauty is a coherent, well-structured feature-length documentary. However, I have to argue with the intent of “inexplicitness”, i.e. allowing the viewers to infer their own conclusions. This I see as a kind of an alibi. As a viewer, I have the right to know the opinion of the film’s authors. At points, it even seemed that they almost yielded to Baarová’s perspective. There were certain hints indicating their sympathy with this weak old lady lamenting about her life – for instance, the poetic intercuts of flying birds accompanied with gloomy music. Was this cheap cliché supposed to make you feel sympathetic? Indeed, it’s not easy to take a more decisive attitude given the applied narrative structure. The entire concept would have to have been different, focusing directly on the controversial nature of the topic, which would require confronting views and plurality of opinions.

“Baarová was her own victim”

TH: For example, Baarová fascinated director Petr Hátle as an old lonely alcoholic. His film Lída Baarová’s Virginity did not analyse her life choices leading to her success and eventual fall. Třeštíková and Hejna focus on Baarová’s perspective, without delving into the issue of whether she betrayed the nation or moral principles, or her own interpretation – that she only was a naive and confused young girl – and including it into their narration scheme. Hubač and Renč tell her story as the traditional tale of rise and fall, but distort and modify the reality, and use cheap methods of narration not dissimilar from the works of the so-called exploitation cinema.

: I don’t understand why Baarová is taken for the mascot of all the artists who paid their price for being born at a certain time and consequently being forced to act in certain way. I believe that our history has many more exceptional stories to offer. For instance, that of Anna Letenská, a film actress who died in a concentration camp, or Čeněk Šlégl, who apparently sacrificed his life for his family. Not much is known about Karel Postránecký who dedicated the money earned for his engagement in anti-Semitic political propaganda on Czech Radio to support anti-Nazi resistance. If there is a trend of being reminiscent of this period in our history and its notable figures, we should not forget real heroes. And Baarová is not one of them – she was her own victim.

more articles from a section:  Situational review

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1.20Will our civilisation negotiate this turn?American documentarian Jeff Gibbs’ activist film Planet of the Humans, which criticises the way we treat renewable energy sources, has evoked numerous controversial reactions. It’s no surprise that the producer is well-known filmmaker Michael Moore, who released the film freely on YouTube on Earth Day, when the worldwide corona virus pandemic was at its peak.Kamila Boháčková
1.20Caught in the Net should really be on the net if it’s going to change anythingDiscussion about the new film by Vít Klusák a Barbora Chalupová Caught in the NetKamila Boháčková
3.16From Disillusionment to KiskaA discussion on movie Difficult Choice by Zuzana PiussiJitka Lanšperková
2.16Wasted Potential of the Good Old TrabiA film critic, a social scientist and a traveler discuss the latest of the series of films by Dan Přibáň called With Trabants to the Last BreathJitka Lanšperková
6.15Multi-layered Personal TestimonyA debate about the film Czechs Against Czechs by Czech documentarian Tomáš KratochvílJitka Lanšperková
4.15Tears for Steve JobsThe 19th Jihlava IDFF will show a premiere of a documentary film by the academy award-winning director Alex Gibney, Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, about the emotional bond that can form between a man and a technical device.Jitka Lanšperková
3.15Alcohol and Heroin Are All the SameA discussion on Mallory, a new documentary by Helena TřeštíkováJitka Lanšperková
2.15Addicted to Living TogetherDiscussion about movie Always Together directed by Eva TomanováJitka Lanšperková
1.15(Un)usual Energy of the Tribes?In this section, usually people from all kinds of different disciplines assess a specific documentary piece in joint discussion. However, for this issue we decided on a small change.Tomáš Stejskal

starší články

21. 03. 2016

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková

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