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Informative article on this film

Holocaust and hallucinations

While at FAMU (the Prague Film School), Nemec studied under the director Václav Krška, whose Měsíc nad řekou (Moon over the River, 1953), adapted from the play by Fráňa Šrámek, Nemec regarded as the first Czech "auteur" film. Nemec's short graduation film, Sousto (A Loaf of Bread, 1960), an adaptation of Arnošt Lustig's story about two prisoners who steal a loaf of bread from a freight car guarded by the SS, won three international awards.

Lustig's stories and novels about the Jewish experience in Nazi concentration camps were to form the basis of some of the major Czech films of the sixties, of which Nemec's first feature, Démanty noci, is the most impressive. It was adapted from Lustig's novella, Tmá nemá stín (Darkness Casts No Shadow). [2]

The story of the film is very simple. Two Jewish boys escape from a Nazi
Jan Nemec's Demanty noci (Diamonds of the Night, 1964)
Nightmares and daydreams
transport train, stagger through the woods, ask for food at a farmhouse, then are betrayed and captured by the local Sudeten volunteers. The boys are put on trial and condemned to death, but they may or may not be executed. This is not, however, a conventional "open ending" since the audience is given two endings. A choice must be made.

The film's main narrative device centres on a pair of boots which has been exchanged for bread on the train. It is because of the ill-fitting boots that they will be captured. A close-up of the mud-caked boots leads to an immediate flashback to them in the railcar among emaciated camp members. It is the first of a series of close-ups that provide a potent evocation of increasing lameness. In repeated images, we see boots painfully eased off, the bruised feet painfully unwrapped or prodded.

Film sensation

Unlike other films based on Lustig's writing, Nemec's film constantly breaks with conventional narrative and psychological motivation. He is not interested in telling a story or explaining the actions of his characters, but in making a close identification with their mental state. The novella, of course, also employs a flashback structure, but it is conventionally motivated.

Nemec's objective can best be described as a search for psychological truth. Recognising the debilitated state of his heroes, he places intense emphasis on
Jan Nemec's Demanty noci (Diamonds of the Night, 1964)
In search of psychological truth
the interaction between physical sensation and mental states. Němec walks a tightrope between the two, conveying flashbacks and fantasy in a continuum in which past, present and future comprise a single reality. The hand-held camera is placed so close to the action that it is virtually a third participant in the flight. In an exhausted and semi-feverish state, the boys push on as memories and fantasies break into their consciousness.

Rarely attempted in cinema—Démanty noci is one of the few examples—this is an entirely logical, even "realist", approach. The focus on physical sensation is conveyed through texture, lighting, and sound-harsh sunlight on jagged rocks, ants filling the socket of an eye, the sound of rain soaking into the earth, a bubble of blood in a dry mouth, a fantasy scene of childish laughter on crisp winter air.

Nemec's admiration for the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel is evident in this work, with obvious influences from Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1928) and L'Âge d'Or (The Golden Age, 1930). However, these are no mere quotations and are embedded in Nemec's own approach.

Like many of the adaptations of Lustig's work, Němec's film expands from its
Jan Nemec's Demanty noci (Diamonds of the Night, 1964)
Symbolic points of reference
historical context to emphasise a symbolic relevance, an application to other situations and times. The struggle against persecution and injustice is a permanent one, and the film seems more concerned with the fact and experience of persecution than an analysis of its historical context. The final image in which the heroes appear to march on into the woods suggests an unresolved situation.

The film draws on the photographic talents of both the established cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera and the young Miroslav Ondříček, who also worked as assistant cameraman to Kučera on three other features. Ondříček, who photographed a third of the film (this was before his collaboration with Miloš Forman), was responsible for the remarkable use of hand-held camera. Kučera's flair for photographic texture, evident in such films as Vojtěch Jasný's Všichní dobří rodáci (All My Good Countrymen, 1968) and Věra Chytilová's Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (The Fruit of Paradise, 1969) is also apparent.

by Peter Hames


Thanks for sharing. There's also an interview with Peter Hames included as one of the special features on the Second Run DVD in which he expands on some of the points mentioned above.



I saw this tonight; what a powerful, original film!

One question I had, what do the letters "KL" mean on the back of the jacket?


KL is an abbreviation for Konzentrationslager, meaning Concentration Camp, which is where the boys in Diamonds of the Night were headed when they escaped

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you're welcome

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