Slovak Film Director Juraj Jakubisko Dies Aged 84

Jakubisko directed several dozen feature and documentary films, winning more than 80 awards. Photo credit: Gorupdebesanez, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Bratislava/Prague, Feb 27 (CTK) – Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko, one of the leading figures of the Czechoslovak New Wave of the 1960s, died at his home in Prague on Friday evening, his daughter Janette Jakubiskova told the RTVS public Slovak TV and radio. He was 84 years old.

Jakubisko, dubbed the “Federico Fellini of the East” directed several dozen feature and documentary films which won more than 80 awards.

His most famous full-length feature films include “Crucial Years” (Kristove roky, 1966), “Deserters and Pilgrims” (Zbehovia a putnici, 1968), “Birds, Orphans and Fools” (Vtackovia, siroty a blazni, 1969), “The Millennial Bee” (Tisicrocna vcela, 1983), “The Feather Fairy” (Perinbaba, 1985), starring Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina, “An Ambiguous Report about the End of the World” (Nejasna zprava o konci sveta, 1997) and “Bathory” (2008).

Tributes to Jakubisko and his work came from the Slovak National Theatre (SND), senior Slovak politicians and media outlets.

“His exceptional film-making style brought Slovakia to the wider film world. The Slovak Fellini, as he was often called, loved freedom and imagination and left space for them in his movies,” wrote Slovak President Zuzana Caputova. Some of Jakubisko’s films have become part of the country’s cultural heritage, she added.

PM Eduard Heger said Jakubisko had left behind legendary works that would remain alive for generations.

“This is a great loss both for Slovakia and the Czech Republic. One of the greatest artists of our times has left us,” said Slovak parliament chairman Boris Kollar.

The Slovak daily Sme wrote that Jakubisko gave Slovaks their own “magical realism.”

Jakubisko, a graduate form the Film Academy (FAMU) in Prague who originally wanted to be an artist, made his feature debut, “Crucial Years”, in 1967.

His films from the late 1960s, “Deserters and Pilgrims”, “Birds, Orphans and Fools”, and “See You in Hell, Friends”, in which he returned to the landscape of his native Eastern Slovakia and its local people, made heavy use of poetry, metaphors and symbols. They were banned by the Communist authorities, and the last of the trilogy was only released in cinemas in 1990, after the fall of the regime.

During the “normalisation” period – the restoration of hardline communist rule that followed the 1968 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – Jakubisko was allowed to make only documentary films. He returned to live-action films with “Build a House, Plant a Tree” in 1979.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Communist rule, Jakubisko made the satirical tragi-comedy “It’s Better to Be Wealthy and Healthy Than Poor and Ill” (Lepsie byt bohaty a zdravy ako chódny a chory, 1992), featuring his wife Deana Jakubiskova and Czech actress Dagmar Veskrnova, who later married president Vaclav Havel; “An Ambiguous Report about the End of the World”, a dystopian symbolic story of ill-fated love set in Central Europe, also with his wife in the main role, which was presented at more than 60 film festivals and won four Czech Lion annual film awards. His “Post Coitum” (2004), with Italian actor Franco Nero, met with quite a negative critical response.

Jakubisko lived in the Czech capital of Prague after Czechoslovakia’s split in 1993.

His first English-language film, historical drama “Bathory”, based on the legend of the Hungarian countess who killed virgins to bathe in their blood, was one of the most expensive films not only in the Czech Republic but also in Central Europe, with a budget of CZK 350 million. The film was awarded the Czech Lion for the best artistic achievement, and was the most successful film in Czech cinemas in 2008, attracting record audiences.

During his 50-year film career, Jakubisko received several lifetime-achievement awards, including the Best Slovak Director of the 20th Century and a Czech Lion award for his long contribution to cinematography. He was also a visual artist.

Along with Slovak and Czech media outlets, Jakubisko’s death was also reported by the AP and Reuters news agencies, and obituaries appeared in media outlets in Poland, Hungary, and the UK.

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