Juraj Jakubisko in his home studio. Photo: Facebook / Juraj Jakubisko - režisér (director)

Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko passes away at age 84

Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko, who rose to prominence during the Czech(oslovak) New Wave in the 1960s only to be banned from fictional filmmaking for a decade after the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, passed away at the age of 84 on Friday in Prague. His daughter Janette Jakubisková confirmed the news to Slovak media on Saturday.

Jakubisko, who was named the best Slovak director of the 20th century in his home country and dubbed the “Fellini of the East” by foreign critics, left behind an eclectic body of work that includes dozens of feature films and documentaries.

“His exceptional film-making style brought Slovakia to the big film world,” Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová wrote on Facebook, noting that the director’s films had become part of her country’s national heritage.

“The Slovak Fellini, as he was often called, loved freedom and imagination and left space for them in his movies.”

Juraj Jakubisko first drew acclaim for his 1967 debut Crucial Years (Kristove roky, also known as The Prime of Life), an autobiographical film about a Slovak artist living in Prague. He followed that film with the 1968 Italian co-production The Deserter and the Nomads (Zbehovia a pútnici), a haunting and surreal war film that charts characters through WWI, WWII, and a post-apocalyptic holocaust.

But Jakubisko would receive the largest notices for his 1969 drama Birds, Orphans and Fools (Vtáčkovia, siroty a blázni), which was immediately banned by Soviet censors and would remain largely unseen until after 1990. The director also received a ten-year ban from fictional filmmaking, and turned to documentaries for the next decade.

Returning to more censor-friendly popular films in the 1980s, Jakubisko scored hits with international fairy tales such as The Feather Fairy (Perinbaba), starring Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina, and the TV miniseries Frankenstein’s Aunt (Teta), which was edited into the feature Freckled Max and the Spooks (Pehavý Max a strašidlá) and starred Viveca Lindfors and Eddie Constantine.

1983’s The Millennial Bee (Tisícročná včela) and 1989’s Sitting on a Branch, Enjoying Myself (Sedím na konári a je mi dobre) are considered the director’s best film from this period. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jakubisko would go on to make the surreal fantasy epic An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World (Nejasná zpráva o konci světa).

In 2008, Jakubisko released Bathory, an epic tale of famed ‘Countess of Blood’ Elizabeth Bathory that was widely reported to be the Czech Republic’s most expensive film production at a budget of 350 million crowns until Petr Jákl‘s Medieval, which was released in 2022.

Jakubisko graduated from Prague’s FAMU film academy in the 1960s, and would live in Prague following the Velvet Divorce in 1993 until his death. The filmmaker has one more feature in store for audiences: a sequel to his fairy tale Perinbaba, which was shot over the past years and tentatively scheduled for release in 2023.

During a career that spanned more than five decades, Jakubisko received numerous lifetime achievement awards including a Czech Lion for his contribution to Czech cinema, and was named Best Slovak Director of the 20th Century in his home country. He was also a longtime painter and artist.

Lead photo: Juraj Jakubisko in his home studio via Facebook / Juraj Jakubisko – režisér (director)


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *