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Slovak Studies Program

Martin Votruba


Pictures of the Old World







The clip with intercutting filmmakers' footage and external, factual-documentary material, and the character's direct narrative blended with his voice-over against expository shots, highlights the commented nature of the documentary Pictures of the Old World (Obrazy starého sveta, available with subtitles in Hillman Library). Director Dušan Hanák (*1938, Bratislava), living in the capital, dwells on the poorest, old, odd-ones-out in remote places in order to, as he said in an interview, "look for a model of life lived well." He described those that achieved it as individuals who worked on themselves and considered it a given to be true to themselves. He also trusted he was able to get so close to the people that he was getting their authentic exposition on film.
The clip is from the sequence "Cowherd – Astronaut" (Pastier – kozmonaut). Hanák objected to people being called the "subjects" or "objects" of his filmmaking, but he never matched the ten names, listed with their full addresses in the film's opening credits, with the sequences in which they appeared.
Dušan Hanák graduated in feature-film directing from the FAMU in Prague and began to work as a documentarian in Bratislava. His first feature film was 322, he followed Pictures of the Old World with Rosy Dreams.
He started Pictures of the Old World as a shorter project for Slovak TV in 1970 and finished it as an hour-long documentary at the Koliba Film Studio in Bratislava in 1972. His original inspiration was a series of pictures by the photographer, Martin Martinček (1913-2004), that featured four of the people who made it into Hanák's film, which includes a number of Martinček's stills. The communist authorities of the time shelved Pictures of the Old World after only two days of pre-release shows. The poverty punctuated with alcohol, religion, and – at odds with Hanák's and some viewers' interpretation – the affliction of the people's lives, as perceived by other segments of the audience, all clashed with the communist propaganda of the particularly repressive years after the 1968 Soviet invasion and could not be edited out of the film even had the director consented. The ban was lifted for film festivals abroad in 1988, after which the documentary received several awards. Its domestic theatrical release followed in 1989.


Slovak cinema after World War II.


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