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9.9.2011

Skid

Czech immigrant František Král has a terrible car accident in West Berlin. A Western news service immediately takes advantage of the situation, provides him with a new identity and starts training the man, who is suffering from partial amnesia, to become a spy. His task is to get hold of a micro film from Prague. Disguised as a clown working in a West German circus, he sets off soon after to perform in Prague. At first everything goes according to plan, but there is one thing Frantisek had not reckoned on...

Still from the movie "Skid". (© Národní Filmovy Archiv)


František Král has illegally entered West Germany from Czechoslovakia and has immersed himself in the pleasures of West Berlin's decadent nightlife when he suddenly has a terrible car accident, resulting in partial amnesia. A Western security agency immediately seizes this opportunity to train him as a spy: plastic surgery gives him a new face and his trainers give him a new name – Franz König – and a new job as a circus performer. There's not the tiniest flaw in the façade of his new life: he can speak four languages and can react immediately in any one of them. His first assignment takes him to Prague, where he is to get hold of microfilm plans for a secret aeroplane.

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About the Movie

Skid

Original Title: Smyk
Czechoslovakia 1960, 104 min., subtitles

Director: Zbynek Brynych
Cast: Jirí Vala, Jirina Švorcová, Jirina Jirásková et al.
Disguised as a clown, František Král, alias Franz König, travels with the West German Variété Welt circus to give a guest performance in the Czechoslovak capital. At first, all goes according to plan, but Král soon begins to realise that his home city in no way resembles the picture of squalor and poverty that his Western minders had drummed into him. When he meets members of his family, his wife and brother, it dawns on him that he has been betrayed.

What stands out in Skid / Smyk is its focus on the psychology of the main character: secret agents are marked out by the fact that they get on with the job. They don't spend time mulling over the rights and wrongs of their mission; to stand still is to court instant death. What's also interesting about this film is how the storyline foreshadows what would happen to its two main protagonists – director Zbyněk Brynych and co-author Pavel Kohout.

In Skid, Brynych and Kohout created a profound psychological spy drama, in which the action takes place in and between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. It was an area of high tension, into which they were both personally and inevitably drawn after 1968. Author and poet Pavel Kohout was one of the spokesmen for the Prague Spring: his dissident views finally led to him being expelled to Austria in 1979, where he continued to write and worked as a political pundit. Zbyněk Brynych left Czechoslovakia in 1969 to work mainly in West Germany.

Brynych's early career encompassed a number of different aspects of cinema work: he was a set designer, assistant director, documentary producer and did a correspondence course in feature film direction at the Prague Academy for the Performing Arts (FAMU). From 1953 to 1955 he worked initially at the Armed Forces Film Studios, then at the Feature Film Studio, where he made his first feature, Suburban Romance / Žižkovská romance, which was shown at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. But his biggest commercial success came two years later with Skid. It won the prize for best director at the Karlsbad International Film Festival.

Brynych's work in West Germany included screen adaptations of Franz Kafka and Erich Maria Remarque, as well as directing many episodes for the long-running TV series The Commissar / Der Kommissar, The Old Man / Der Alte, Derrick and Police Inspectorate 1 / Polizeiinspektion 1. According to Brynych himself, after four series of The Commissar, he had to return to Czechoslovakia because of what he called 'an incident' during the failed revolution of 1968, and was forbidden to leave the country again for four years (see Rainer Knepperges: GDINETMAO. Abweichungen vom deutschen Film, Berlin 2000).

The cinema critic Ralf Schenk says of Skid, that Zbyněk Brynych uses "the CinemaScope format to create dynamic montages; then, in the flashbacks, he reverts from widescreen to standard format. Editing, sound and camera-work allow him to show the dissonance between the two worlds and to create an effective and spectacular piece of propaganda. 'Disharmony, decadence, recklessness, systematic inhumanity in the one world; peace, security, clarity and humanity in the other', according to a contemporary review in the East German magazine Deutsche Filmkunst. Above all, the aim was to look at the reality of life in Czechoslovakia through the eyes of 'the enemy' but then to depict it, as seen by the film's protagonist (František Král) as both benevolent and confident about its own future. But the hope expressed by the filmmakers was to be proved false: after the Prague Spring, Pavel Kohout was exiled and even Brynych preferred to go and work in the West.' (Berliner Zeitung, 26 May 2011).
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Nikolaj Nikitin

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