Distant Journey - Distant Journey( Blu Ray) [Second Run - 2020]Made in 1948, three years after the end of World War II- Distant Journey was one of the first films to address the Holocaust & the Nazi's mass murder of the Jews. It’s a well made & powerfully acted Czech film that sits somewhere between troubling drama & grim wartime thriller, it follows the blight of a Jewish family as the Nazi power & propaganda grew, blending in news & German progander footage from the time to nicely chart the rise & fall of the persecution of Jews. Here on Second Run- the up & coming world cinema/ art-house label is a recent Blu Ray release of this important & at times harrowing picture, bringing together a new 4K scan of the film, a new commentary track, a few extras & inlay booklet.
Distant Journey( aka Daleká cesta) was the first feature-length film from Czech director Alfréd Radok, who originally came from Avant Grade theatre background. And while Distant Journey has some arty & expressionistic touches here & there, it’s a fairly linear drama/ grim thriller film, which slowly but surely notch-up the tension & suffering put on the Jews during world war II. All making for certainly a very well made and ahead of its time film, that still mangers to be impactful- at times unsettling & shocking which you can’t say for many films that were made 70 plus years ago.
The film is set in 1940’s Prague, and growing Terezin Ghetto where many Jews where sent. The film focuses in on the family of Czech Jew Hana Kaufmanová(Blanka Waleská) - a young & respected Doctor who at the start of the film is relatively untouched by the Nazi’s aside from anti-Jewish graffiti & been let go from her job. As the film progresses & the Nazi power in Europe intensifies- we see first she & her brethren been band from shops & other places. Jewish business are shut down, and then they all have to have the star of David sewn onto them, and around halfway into the film, her older parents are shipped off the ghetto. As the film moves on things get slow-but-surely grimmer & more oppressive for Hana- as the action switches between slowly deserting Prague & the crowded ghetto. Towards the latter part of the film we dip into extremely harrowing territory, as we see people sorting through of clothes & possessions of dead Jews, the realizations that the Czech people were been used to build gas chambers, and the sinister sight of the huge brooding black iron train that took the Jews off to the camps. As well as effectively telling the story of the Czech Jews in a compelling & troubling manner; director Alfréd Radok has a real eye for detailed & interesting framing, with many of the crowded ghetto shots taking on an almost 3D quality. He also places some very memorable & moody shots/ images through-out in the film- for example when we see the amass Jews been lead on foot to Ghetto- the scene is drenched in grim rain, as the bodies plough through mud & water- and just as the crowd is leaving a bedraggled & off-key Jewish Jazz band start to play a ramshackle piece. And towards the end of the film a piano has been left half hanging from an abandoned building- and to alert all that the war is over a woman starts whacking the instrument with a metal pole. As you’d expect Distant Journey isn’t a film for everyone, I’d say you have to be interested in the subject matter, and enjoy foreign language black & white dramas- but if you do I’m sure you find this a worthy-if-often troubling viewing experience.
Moving onto the Blu Ray disc- and for a film from 1948, the new 4K looks amazing- so crisp, clear & defined- sure there are a few pockmarks & blips on the print, but nothing very much- so really they have done wonders with the print. Moving onto the extras & first off we have get a three-way film/ genre expert commentary track taking in Mike White, Samm Deighan, and Kat Ellinger.The track moves from discussing the film it’s self, and it’s more arty touches. Similar films, and how ahead of it’s time it was. Moving on to talking about the treatment of the Jewish by the nazi, and how Czech Jews were still seen as less than others, even after the war when the country came under communist rule. It’s an interesting & worthy track, though at times it feels a little bit of three company situation, I do think tracks work better as either solo or two-person affairs, otherwise, they become a little unbalance & lack focus somewhat. We have two short films- first, we have 1958’s Butterflies Don't Live Here(Motýli tady ne ijí) – a dialogue-less documentary made by Miro Bernat focusing in Terezín ghetto & it’s children- it blends footage of the empty & run-down ghetto, children's drawings, and even I believe footage from inside concentration camp buildings. Next, we get 1960’s The Opening of the Wells- this runs around fifteen minutes, and is by Alfréd Radok- and the film shows the more arty & abstract side of the director, as we get of images of the ages of womanhood, old townfolk walking barren landscape, fields of crops that go from green-to-golden, and other imagery. Lastly, on the disc, we have a trailer. The set comes with a twenty-page glossy booklet- this takes in a write-up about the film to hand & Alfréd Radok's career, as well as stills from the film.
In finishing Distant Journey is a great addition to Second Runs growing catalog- the print is top class, and the extras are well picked & interesting- so I do look forward to seeing what the company put out.Roger Batty