Intimate Lighting Review
Of all the “name” directors it’s a safe bet that Ivan Passer’s cinematic career has been the most erratic. Though not the most prolific of filmmakers he’s nonetheless managed to try his had at most things: working with Robert De Niro during the actor’s early years (Born to Win); directing Peter O’Toole in a science-fiction comedy (Creator); taking on the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Haunted Summer); even helming a Michael Caine crime caper (Silver Bears). Of course, such a diverse array of pictures means that the overall quality control can, on occasion, be just as erratic, but generally speaking each instalment in his filmography has been worth tracking down. Indeed, Second Run’s new DVD handling of 1965’s Intimate Lighting is especially covetable as it offers up one of his earliest efforts, the last of his films to be made in his native Czechoslovakia in fact.
Not quite the earliest, however, Second Run having previously issued Audition/Talent Competition on which he made his debut as co-screenwriter. It’s a film with which Intimate Lighting shares a number of qualities – not least Miroslav Ondricek’s fine photography and a delightful turn by Vera Kresdlova – if not quite the same free spirited, freewheeling tone. Rather Intimate Lighting is a gentler, though no less light a concoction; the reason perhaps why both films have never quite attained the same recognition amongst the Czech New Wave’s output as A Blonde in Love, say, or Closely Observed Trains.
Yet Intimate Lighting is still a charming piece of work, a quality apparent from its very first moments. Indeed, the opening scene lays down Passer’s intent perfectly as his camera focuses on Karel Blasek conducting a tiny orchestra. He’s a figure who prompts in the director a certain curious fascination and this is true of the film as a whole. Passer holds onto the small moments, picking up on their incidental humour, or lets his eye roam wherever it takes his fancy. Though we’re assured in the accompanying interview that only a single scene was (inadvertently) improvised, there’s an air of documentary to the proceedings, albeit a warm, quietly intrigued one at that. The end result is more a collection of the director’s favourite vignettes than a genuine narrative, whatever that may be.
Certainly, the plotting is non-existent and intentionally so. The hook, if you call it such, is that Zdenek Bezusek’s musician comes to visit his old friend Blasek in the country. Alongside Bezusek we also have Kresdlova as his girlfriend, whilst Blasek’s family home is occupied not only by his wife and two young children, but also his elderly parents. Nothing much happens of great consequence, but then this is the point. The ‘old friends reunited’ concept – one from the town, one from the country – may recall Claude Chabrol’s roughly contemporaneous Le Beau Serge, but Intimate Lighting is nothing like as forceful in its intent. There’s no grand conclusion, in fact the concert for which Bezusek is returning is never even seen; rather Passer’s concern lies with the details in-between.
The result then is a film which asks its audience to match this general level of bemusement. As such it’s also an incredibly relaxed (and relaxing) experience, one we’re allowed to truly luxuriate ourselves in if ever the desire becomes apparent. Certainly, Intimate Lighting is a work which can be taken whichever we like. If, on the one hand, you fail to become engaged by its collection of inconsequence then it’s likely to float on by unnoticed (and Intimate Lighting is most definitely a film which floats). If, on the other, it does grab your attention – and I would hope, indeed expect, that this is the greater possibility – then you’re likely to become utterly entranced.
Though not completely perfect, Intimate Lighting has been treated to a worthy presentation. There are instances of moderate damage (minor scratches and the like), but these are far outweighed by a fine level of detail and clarity, not to mention generally excellent contrast. The latter does waver on occasion – the blacks can look a little too inky and undefined – plus there are moments where edge haloing becomes apparent, but on the whole there are never any overly distracting problems. As with Second Run’s release of Audition/Talent Competition it’s more a case that we’re getting the opportunity to catch up with a little seen gem of the Czech New Wave and that the more important qualities are in place.
The soundtrack is the more impressive offering with only the music played over the opening credits coming across as a little too highly pitched. Otherwise it remains crisp and clean throughout, surprisingly free of any pops or crackles and as such a delight to listen to. Moreover, we’re also getting the film in its original mono as the director intended.
As for extras here we find an 18-minute interview with Ivan Passer conducted last year  and liner notes by Philip Bergson. The interview in particular is noteworthy as reportedly this is the first time Passer has discussed the film on camera. Certainly it makes for a great listen as he traces the film from its inception to its reaction whilst plotting various courses in-between. We get the expected anecdotes of course, some time spent on the conditions of filming in Czechoslovakia at the time and, hardly surprisingly, plenty of kind words with regards to Ondricek. As for Bergson’s notes these makes for a fine introduction and can be found in full at Second Run’s website: www.secondrundvd.com.