Saturday, May 06, 2017

Siréna / The Siren / The Strike (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Karel Steklý, Czechoslovakia 1947
Print source: Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive), Prague
Running time: 77 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print

The print is in very good condition. It was deposited with the National Film Archive at some point before 1952, and is probably the print of Siréna that was screened in 1947 at the 8th Venice International Film Festival where the film won the Grand International Award. Shrinkage: 0.8–0.95%

About the film

“We greatly admired this picture, which resembles Carol Reed’s film about the lives of Welsh miners, The Stars Look Down. This is that film’s Czech counterpart, so to speak—a dignified and an even more brilliant counterpart, with its proletarian story about the working-class Hudcový family. It is an intense, extensively detailed, and often riveting picture about the bitter cycle of existence for the poor, a picture of misery and grief, warmed only by the rays of human love and hardened by the hate that compels one to clench their fists and come to blows—perhaps even wrongly.”
– Jan Žalman, Kino, May 9, 1947

AA: Introduced by Michal Bregant and screened with English subtitles by Roberta Finlayson-Saymour on the vintage print. The Strike is the on-screen title. Siréna is a dramatic condensation of a central narrative thread in Marie Majerová's epic 1935 novel. The screenplay was written by the author herself. Based on reality, the growth of the Kladno industrial center in 1835–1894, Siréna is a story of the half-feudal reign of the tycoon Bohumír Bacher and the organization of the miners to fight for their rights, their dignity, and their self-respect.

Besides The Stars Look Down, Siréna brings to mind classics such as Germinal, How Green Was My Valley, and Die Weber. And the current of socialist realism that started with Maxim Gorky's The Mother.

A central thread is a fight against apathy and degeneration among the downtrodden miners. The young daughter of the family is a ray of hope. The miners try to impose discipline. They are wary of sabotage. They avoid being provoked ("that's the sort of excuse they want"). But an outburst of anarchic violence does take place (things are demolished, not people) which then does give Bacher's people the excuse to unleash bloodhounds. The cavalry is summoned, and it opens fire against the workers. Even the little agitator daughter is mortally hit.

The central consciousness belongs to the mother in the finale. We identify with her suffering. When the siren rings once more she declares that we will never be silenced again.

The brilliant print does justice to the sometimes dark and challenging imagery.

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