The feature debut of director Tomáš Lunák, Alois Nebel (2011) is an animated film based on a trilogy of graphic novels by Jaromír99 and Jaroslav Rudiš. The film’s black-and-white images sometimes look like a graphic novel come to life. At other times, they possess the stark enchantment of woodblock prints. Through the use of rotoscope animation, the characters’ smallest gestures are incredibly lifelike.
Alois Nebel is a middle-aged train dispatcher in the village of Bilý Potok. It is the period leading up to the Velvet Revolution, which will see the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia, but Alois keeps remembering the end of another era. Every time a train passes through the station with a cloud of steam, a ‘fog’ descends on him, and he has flashbacks of the end of World War II, when Germans were deported en masse from the region—including a woman who had been a mother to him during the war. As a result of these episodes, his opportunistic comrades place him temporarily in an institution. There, Alois meets a mute fugitive with an important connection to his past.
A ‘fog’ is an entirely appropriate term for Alois’ rememberances of the past, as the exact events remain hazy for most of the film. This may have been a deliberate choice, in order to build suspense, and reflect the repression at work in Alois own memory. Yet even at the film’s end, when the mystery seems to be cleared up, some details remain obscure. Alois Nebel assumes, in addition, a certain degree of knowledge about Czechoslovakia’s history, which may limit its appeal to younger/international audiences. Still, the film will hold a lot of power for those familiar with the nation’s history, both political and cinematic. The film’s opening, in particular, which introduces the audience to life at the station, recalls the WWII-set Closely Observed Trains (1966): many of the shots of the station exterior, and of the small repeated gestures that make up everyday life inside the station, look as though they were modelled on Jiří Menzel’s film.
The LFF’s final screening of Alois Nebel will take place on Thursday, 27 October at 3:30 pm at BFI Southbank’s NFT 2. For details, consult the festival’s web site.