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Czechoslovakia, 1959 (MIFF 1960, Programme 9)

Director: Jiri Weiss

From the musty archives of some supernatural Law Court a judge takes the dossier of a young girl accused of the crime of suicide. Gradually the evidence against her, her family, her fiance, her fiance's mother, her lover, her lover's wife and her fellow students is unfolded. Motives are analysed, speeches, and their inflexions recalled, the smallest accidents and incidents relived, to illuminate her reasons for taking her life.

Based on a successful stage-play by Pavel Kohout, Appassionata is the story of a law student who, on the eve of her wedding, meets her old love who has in the meantime married. Their love flares up anew, and the film asks the question: Who is right, the girl with her simple excuse "I love him" or Society, which coldly condemns "that kind of love".

The story is ingeniously conceived to show the impact of the love affair upon the friends and relations of the two young people. It attempts to demonstrate that in a conventional eternal triangle situation the moral situations are disturbingly complex. The girl's decision is the focal point of the film; the repercussions of her action ramify to such an extent that as more people become entangled, the moral distinctions become increasingly subtle. One feels "the pressure of events" and consequently the attitude towards the main characters remain fascinatingly ambivalent. The director seems anxious to establish that any judgment passed on human behaviour is invalid a priori unless all the facts are known. For this reason the narrative-flow is not determined by the temporal order of events, but by a moral examiner who organises the action in an attempt to establish the precedence of forces and display, open-mindedly, the crucial moments in the tragedy. In a penultimate scene he makes the girl and her former lover re-enact their chance meeting before the jeering students and university officials; moved for die first time, he makes a plea for tolerance and understanding, crying "judge them if you will". Although Appassionata is an exercise in logical analysis, it retains a tenderness, a power to move; but it is also a film of exceptional individuality and style. It has the elegance, atmosphere and profes­sional polish of the earlier films by Jiri Weiss and the performances by Marie Tomasova and Vladimir Raz are admirable.

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