After their great re-release of Juraj Herz’s ‘The Cremator’ on Blu-Ray late last year, Second Run have kindly followed that up by restoring another fan favourite Czech title – Ivan Passer’s ‘Intimate Lighting’. Like his close friend and collaborator, the late Miloš Forman, Passer is uninterested in creating a melodramatic representation of everyday life. Forman understood that the most uplifting films are usually the ones that are straightforward, subtle, and short (much like his outstanding break-out film, ‘Loves of a Blonde’). Passer too has a firm grasp on how to tell a similar story; it’s practically plotless but charming and infectious in its good-willed humour. Allow me to introduce you to ‘Intimate Lighting’.
Through a set of comical and sweet vignettes, ‘Intimate Lighting’ follows a professional orchestra musician, Petr (Zdeněk Bezušek). Along with his girlfriend, Petr decides to go to the outskirts of the Czech countryside seeking two things. Firstly, he wishes to perform a small symphony concert in the village. And secondly, he desires to be reunited with his long-lost friend, another musician nicknamed Bambas (Karel Blažek). Bambas cuts his teeth differently for a living though, the man lost his ambition for the art and instead lends his musical talents to local funerals. Gone is his pleasure for classical music, and when Petr arrives on his doorstep, Bambas embraces him with open arms. However, Petr’s return also means band practice in the dining room, chickens swarming Bambas’s garage, both drinking together in the night, and plenty of eggnog to go round.
What strikes me about ‘Intimate Lighting’ is its focus on the joyous pleasure of friendship. Simply put, there’s a great quote by David Lean where he describes characterisation as, “I like making films about characters I’d like to have dinner with”. In the context of ‘Intimate Lighting’ us, the audience, would love to have dinner with the characters in Passer’s début. Each has a tender heart and soul that makes them human, yes, but Passer is aware that they find their careers unsatisfying in the long run. Bambas is a family man, however, he must juggle his job as the head of a local music school with his crying kids and irritable parents-in-law; the man is a stressed workaholic. On the opposite side, Petr is a city boy struggling to form a relationship with his girlfriend; he is unsure of what to do in his place in the orchestra back home.
Passer is showing that life fills itself with smaller and happier moments, under the surface of the working class’s desire to “do better” than their designated roles in society. ‘Intimate Lighting’ never hammers home that the working man is unfairly trampled upon by a corrupt government. By use of naturalistic performances, stark black-and-white camerawork, and an underlying dry sense of humour, Passer gets to the core of humanity which drives this 77-minute film to a memorable closure. By the midway point of ‘Intimate Lighting’, Petr and Bambas get together a band rehearsal in the dining room. In one, steady shot of the non-professional actors performing the music, each man tries to outplay the rest, bicker against each other, or not show the confidence to keep up with the others. Passer lets the spectator see the mannerisms of his characters, and in return, it becomes a joy seeing them interact with one another.
‘Intimate Lighting’ is special because it presents the small moments of a friendship. It isn’t only documentation of how human relationships form and develop over a short period, and neither do the characters get trapped in a prolonged state of depression. Passer notes on an interview, featured on the disc, that he met a man who claimed to have seen the film over 60 times, more so than the director himself. If a film can recapture the magic of this one-of-a-kind world enough for it to be that rewatchable, then the film is doing something right. ‘Intimate Lighting’ is a lovely, lovely watch.
INTIMATE LIGHTING IS OUT NOW ON SECOND RUN