Menzel, Jiri: Director Profile

Jiri Menzel is the director of “I Served the King of England,” which was the entry of the Czech Republic for the 2007 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.

One of the best-known and most successful Czech directors, Jiri Menzel fell in love with the films of Chaplin, Rene Clair, Jean Renoir and others while still in primary school. Yet it was theatre he first chose to study, and it was only after he failed to get into drama school that he was awarded a place at FAMU (Prague Film Academy) where he was a student from 1958 to 1962. It was a particularly good year (it included among others Vera Chytilova and Evald Schorm), and is widely regarded as the driving force behind the Czech New Wave.

In 1965, together with Jan Nimec, Vira Chytilova, Evald Schorm and Jaromil Jires, he directed “Pearls on the Bottom,” a feature made up of several different stories (Fipresci award, Locarno Film Festival). His first solo full length feature, “Closely Watched Trains” (1966), based on a story by Bohumil Hrabal, won him a number of awards, including the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

With the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968 and the period of the so called “normaLzation” that followed, he was one of the first directors to be barred from filmmaking. The communists were particularly outraged by his next Hrabal adaptation “Larks on a String” (1969), an expos of the true nature of 'peoples democracy in 1950s Czechoslovakia.(The film was not shown until 1990 when, among other awards, it won the Golden Bear at Berlin).

In the mid-1970s, Menzel returned to directing with “Who Seeks a Handful of Gold” (1974), a depiction of working-class life. But it was the chance to adapt two other Hrabal works for the screen, “Cutting it Short” (1980, special prize at the Venice Film Festival) and “Snowdrop Festival” (1983) that finally brought him real creative freedom.

In 1986, Menzel was nominated for an Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film for “My Sweet Little Village” (1985). Menzels last film to date, is an adaptation of Vladimir Voynovitchs bestselling novel “The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin” (1993).

Since then he has worked exclusively in the theatre, in Pragues Cinohern klub (Drama Club), Divadlo na zbradl (Theatre on the Balustrade), Divadlo na Vinohradech (Vineyards Theatre), and as guest director on several leading European stages, among them the Comdie-Francaise in Paris.

Other full length features directed by Menzel include “Capricious Summer” (1967, Grand Prix, Karlovy Vary), “Seclusion Near the Forest” (1976, Silver Hugo, Chicago; Fipresci special prize, Mannheim; CIC prize, San Sebastian), “The End of the Old Times” (1989, Best Director and Best Film awards, Los Angeles; Best Director, Montreal, Las Vegas and Melbourne) and “The Beggars Opera” (1991, Special Prize, Chicago).

Among Menzels notable appearances as an actor are his roles in “The Accused” (1964), which won its joint directors Jan Kadar and Elmar Kloss an Academy Award, “The Body-Burner” (1968, director Juraj Herz), “30 Virgins and Pythagoras” (1973, director Pavel Hobl), “The Apple Game” (1976, director Vera Chytilov), “Greetings from Planet Earth” (1982, director Oldrich Lipsky), “The Vampire of Ferato” (1982, director Juraj Herz), “The Gentle Barbarian” (1989, director Petr Koliha), “Martha and I” (1990, director Jioi Weiss), “La Petite Apocalypse” (1992, director Costa-Gavras) and “Escape to Budin” (2002, director Miloslav Luther).

Jiri Menzel is a member of The Czech Film and Television Academy, The European Film Academy and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has received many prestigious awards, among them the French order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and the Akira Kurosawa Prize for Lifetimes Achievement at the San Francisco Film Festival.