Mountains and Mines at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival

by James Zeller

This year’s edition of the Giornate del Cinema muto (Pordenone Silent Film Festival) featured a rare gem: Po Horách Po Dolách, a Czechoslovakian silent film made in 1930. The title translates to “After the Mountains After the Mines” a very poetic way to describe the live of the rural Czechoslovakian community filmmaker Karel Plicka chose to show us. He begins the film with a shot of the stunning mountainous landscape in which this community is located. We then see a pair of shepherds that appear to be father and son leading their flock of sheep, emphasizing almost immediately the value of hard work within this community. We are presented with the hardships the community faces daily. I noticed many difficulties throughout the film but a few stuck out most to me. When the two young boys go to retrieve water from the well, one of them takes bucket after bucket and pours them into a large drum-like barrel that the other boy is holding for him. Once this barrel is full, the boy slams a cork into the opening and the boys roll the barrel back into the village. We also see young boys lead what seems like an endless line of sheep down to be milked by hand one after another.

Hard work is not the only aspect that Plicka wants us to recognize in this community. Another one is the value this community places on religion. During what seems to be an important Christian ceremony, people of all ages gather, dressed in special garb and herbs are burned around a cross. Older men repeat the sign of the cross blessing as everyone walks by. Following this ceremony, the community celebrates with music and dance. A band plays what is presumably the traditional music of the region. Boys roughhouse in many different ways, while girls play some unique tug-o-war type game where two link hands while their teams pull them apart.

The film is noteworthy for being a unique document of its time but also because Czechoslovakian silent films are extremely few in number. It is also interesting to note that Plicka is not only one of the most important figures in early Czechoslovakian film but also is extremely important in the establishing of the ethnographic genre, not only with Po Horách Po Dolách but also with his first film Za slovenským ľudom. I found this film fascinating. I thought that Plicka’s cinematography was simply stunning and also enjoyed the chance to look into a community I would otherwise never get a chance to observe.

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