Petr Záruba: Traces of a Landscape

I will try to avoid too many superlatives in this review of a brilliant documentary that is currently being shown at the online Visions du Réel festival in Nyon. So I have chosen to start with a copy-paste of the festival’s precise synopsis taken from the Cineuropa magazine:


“The film’s subject is Czech painter, photographer and experimental filmmaker Jan Jedlička, whom the Visions du Réel website calls “one of the best-kept secrets in the world of art”. Due to the political situation after 1968, he emigrated from Czechoslovakia and settled in Switzerland. For almost ten years, he was looking for new inspiration when, suddenly, during a holiday trip, he fell in love with the flat landscape of the Maremma region in Tuscany. He found his new artistic home there, and as an artist, he began from scratch. The documentary follows Jedlička at work in the present and dives into the past in order to help us understand his artistic career. The film tries to capture how he rediscovered his landscape – this time his inner one.”

To meet sympathetic Jedlička is a wonderful experience in a film that follows his daily rythm, takes its (his) time, goes with him in the landscape of Maremma in Tuscany, where he finds the motives and brings back pieces of rocks and stones from where he, with his mortar stone grinding and with water, brings forward colours that he uses for his interpretation of the wetland that is Maremma. “I need to have the reality next to me… the presence of reality keep us awake”, he says. He also reflects on loneliness and silence as he could experience in a house in Maremma – “that is not freedom”. He stands on the beach next to the anthropomorphic – as he calls them – wooden sculptures formed by the waves of the sea. He is in his atelier and his home in Zürich and Prague, he makes mezzotints, he is a fabulous photographer, playing with lights and darkness, he is with famous Steidl that publishes a photo book with his works, he praises b/w polaroid.

The film camera (maestro Czech cameraman Miroslav Janek) observes and interprets, I would say paints synchronically with the great artist Jan Jedlička is. It’s all about curiosity, he says, keeping the tension and interest  (good advice to documentarians from a modest man) who – shows the film with archive material, a lot shot by him – has an eye for nuances and a very gentle way of looking at the world.

Making portraits of artists is about finding a tone that fits and characterises the artist without staying on the surface and limit yourself to biography. Petr Záruba cleverly leaves the story about Jedlička leaving Prague in 1969 in the background to let the audience be with him in the creative process. It was a lovely journey to be taken on. Thanks.  

Czech Republic, 2020, 66 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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