LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: LITTLE CRUSADER (aka Križáček) – the latest film from Václav Kadrnka – screened at the Empire Haymarket last night (09 OCT). Here’s our writeup.
LITTLE CRUSADER (2017, Czech Republic / Slovakia / Italy, 90min)
LITTLE CRUSADER is a film about absence told through memory, silence and sound. Early one morning, in an indefinite Middle Ages, a boy (Matouš John) dons his childhood armour and runs away from the family castle. His father (Karel Roden) sets off in pursuit, receiving more or less help from strangers he meets along the way. The elder knight’s search becomes increasingly fraught, haunted by memories of a missing son.
Despite the gravity of the setting, Václav Kadrnka’s film avoids playing up the drama. It remains forever calm and detached, stressing emptiness and loss. Poetically, the father’s quest is assailed by two competing foes. The threads of a treasured tapestry portrait start to unravel, the slight boy slowly disappearing from view. In contrast, the face of his lost son is fictionalised in frescoes and figurines the knight discovers along his path. Has the warrior boy already passed into legend? It is these images of love, loss and faith that give the film its supremely haunting atmosphere.
“He travels from afar to save us all”
Although there is very little dialogue, the film is far from silent. Natural sounds are abundant, giving the ancient environment a very immediate feel. Heavily planned in his script, Kadrnka exploits the intimate nature of sound, contrasting it with the always-other world of sight. The score by Vojtech Havel and Irena Havlová takes the rich foley and layers it into medley, a bellows breathing fire into the hunt.
Tale telling is an important metaphor, from the foundation myth of the Children’s Crusade to the opening zoetrope-style flickering images: billowing curtains intermittently frame and obscure a returning hero. Throughout there are scenes of theatre and sideshow, child’s play and curio that reinforce the immeasurable distance between father and son. Will he ever find him? He may have already gone… The need for redemption is etched deeply in the father’s face.
“Reward our hero for he is fighting for you”
Rather than having anything to say about child soldiers or the Middle Ages, the core of this story is fatherhood and the obligation of one generation to another. It makes a companion piece to the director’s earlier film about a missing parent, EIGHTY LETTERS. Pristine locations – both unusually clean for a film set in this past (contrast with HARD TO BE A GOD) and not used on screen before – create another world we can’t fully know.
Audience questions after the screening revealed how difficult such films are to get made in the Czech Republic (and everywhere?). As state and corporate funding strategies withdraw, the focus is on the commercial success of individual titles. RADIANT CIRCUS exists to help build an audience for exactly this kind of adventurous cinema. The potential absence of such films (the storm we talk about) is very worrying indeed. Micro-budget, difficult-to-handle movies are having a tough time and we need to huddle together if we are to see more of them.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find LITTLE CRUSADER, Václav Kadrnka, Karel Roden, Vojtech Havel and Irena Havlová on IMDb.
- LITTEL CRUSADER screened in the DARE strand at the BFI London Film Festival 2017: “In-your-face, up-front and arresting: films that take you out of your comfort zone.”
- The screening was introduced by Peter Hames (Programme Adviser for Central & Eastern Europe) joined by director Václav Kadrnka and lead actor Karel Roden.
- Read our Festival preview here and our daily writeups here.
- The film was supported in London by the Czech Centre.
Featured images: LITTE CRUSADER (2017).