Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Paths in the Dark Woods

Two teenage boys run desperately through the woods. We learn very little about them but we know they escaped a truck bound for a concentration camp in 1963's Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci). Based loosely on the autobiography of Holocaust survivor Arnošt Lustig, it's a film with very little dialogue, instead telling a visual and auditory tale of raw human experience.

The point of view stays more with the prettier of the two boys, played by Ladislav Jansky, whose confused memories and dreams we're privy to. In ways strikingly evocative of human thought we see potential actions and circumstances repeated as he considers them, and memories of past events recur as he dwells on them. He remembers trading his shoe with the other boy (Antonin Kumbera) for some food. When he breaks into a cottage, he stares mutely at the woman he finds in the kitchen and we watch ideas play out on screen--he hitting her with a stick, an image of her smiling on the bed. We see her slice a loaf of bread and giving it to him. This is probably what actually happens but it's as dizzingly ambiguous to us as it probably is to him.

The film gives a very good impression of being malnourished, out of your wits, humiliated at a young age, and compulsively assigning shame and guilt to senseless circumstances.

Director Jan Nemec and his cinematographer Jaromir Sofr make this human experience beautiful even as it is horrible and appropriately brief, only an hour and seven minutes. Diamonds of the Night is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1247

A button waits behind the morning hill.
A thread and needle stitch the start of day.
The night dissolved beneath the window sill.
The gloveless hands were offered keys to play.
A walking lunch was mainly bone and plant.
A face was shrinking past the point of babe.
The leaky shack was built upon a slant.
In secret bibles, Abram changed to Abe.
The choicest legs could punch a telephone.
As wheels entrap the digits ink'd call.
A distant number faintly heard the tone.
The final wire will connect them all.
Asleep, the moving toy examines gears.
A thousand plastic beads determine years.

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