The only Ivan Passer film I’ve seen other than Intimate Lighting is Cutter’s Way, a fantastic movie with two unexpected leads, that makes the 1980s feel fresh. Passer only made one feature in the Czech Republic. I haven’t read much on him, but I wonder if his path is similar to Forman’s (Passer wrote Loves of a Blonde, after all).
Intimate Lighting is full of long scenes. It’s quite talky. But it’s so full of perfect human observation that it never feels slow. I think this film probably influenced Bob Rafelson a lot.
Accomplished musician Peter (Zdenek Bezusek, amazingly in his only film role!) comes to visit his old friend Bambas (Karel Blazek) in a small village. Stepa (Vera Kresadlová, who I recognized from The Joke), Peter’s carefree girlfriend comes with him.
The beauty of Intimate Lighting is, as mentioned, small observations. Stepa sits outside of a bar, bored, waiting for Peter and honking. He comes into the car and they play “guess that tune” on the horn. Peter and Bambas drink all night and, against better judgment, take out their instruments. Stepa can’t stop laughing over something trivial at lunch.
The scenes feel like they were lived, nearly autobiographical. Part of this is in how long Passer lets them run, and how he focuses his camera less on dramatic moments (i.e arguments) and more the reactions to events.
As Cinema Cats will tell you (this website really exists!), this is the kind of film that values off-screen action. It’s akin to those reaction shots. The joke is so often in the background, or, at least, you have to be patient for it.
Stepa and Peter are such great characters. Bezusek plays Peter as gently amused throughout. Kresadlová’s Stepa isn’t just the “pretty girl on his arm.” She follows her own whims, many of which are simple curiosity.
One of my favorite scenes in Intimate Lighting is when Stepa and Peter talk in bed. She talks about exercise – something that I don’t think happens much on-screen at this time:
I just love their frankness when they talk. Passer keeps us at a relative distance, and their small argument feels loving, flirtatious, and silly.
But Intimate Lighting isn’t just great when it’s a work of satirical realism. Passer really knows how to frame for comedy. Consider one of the ending shots of them film-
It’s not only the ending of a joke that’s been carefully built over time, but the composition itself is a beautiful wide. And it’s a beat that lands perfectly; a textbook example of when to cut out to make something funnier.
The prologue to Intimate Lighting makes me think of Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal, though that film is from 1978, so perhaps Fellini might have been thinking of Passer. It’s a pretty bold beginning. We’re not introduced to the characters, but to a concept. It’s probably no coincidence that it also made me think of The Firemen’s Ball. For me this isn’t the pointed criticism, even anger, of some other Czech New Wave films, but it hints at group mentality, bureaucracy, and the idea of the outsider “against” a more tight-knit community.