Berlinale tribute: Czech director Jiri Menzel | Film | DW | 23.02.2018
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Berlinale tribute: Czech director Jiri Menzel

The Berlin Film Festival this year honors Oscar-winning Czech director Jiri Menzel with a Golden Camera Award – on his 80th birthday.

Academy Award-winning Jiri Menzel is one of the most influential names in 20th century European cinema. Alongside Milos Forman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Vera Chytilova ("Daisies), the Czech director is a leading representative of the Czech New Wave cinema. 

Menzel's debut "Closely Watched Trains" won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967, and he has since produced around 30 films that are marked by shrewd humor and a subtly ironic look at his protagonists. He had a knack for presenting difficult topics with a light hand.

The director, who turned 80 on February 23, was an actor too, and has more than 75 film performances under his belt.

A scene from Menzel's debut, Oscar-winning film, Closely Watched Trains (picture alliance/United Archives/IFTN)

A scene from Menzel's debut, Oscar-winning film, "Closely Watched Trains"

The story behind the 1969 film "Larks on a String" exemplifies the problems the director faced as a filmmaker behind the Iron Curtain.

Read more: Berlinale 2018: Willem Dafoe receives Honorary Golden Bear

As part of attempts to suppress the Prague Spring democratic uprising, Czech authorities banned the film before it hit the cinemas. Censors kept it under lock and key until 1990.

After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in Europe, the film finally premiered at the 1991 Berlin Film Festival — 21 years after it was filmed — and promptly won the Golden Bear award. Menzel was also nominated for Golden Bears in 1975 and 2007.  

 Jiri Menzel (left) meets director Josef von Sternberg (dpa)

Jiri Menzel (left) meets Austrian-American director Josef von Sternberg in 1967

In the 1990s, Menzel was again primarily active as a director at various theatres in Prague and on stages across Europe, including the Comédie-Française.

This year, Menzel can be seen as an actor in Martin Sulík’s film "The Interpreter," which screens in the Berlinale Special programme. He will be honoured with the Berlinale Camera, a "token of gratitude" for "contributions to cinema," at the film’s world premiere on February 23, 2018 at Berlin’s Kino International cinema.

For health reasons, Menzel will be celebrating his 80th birthday in a hospital in Prague instead of accepting the award in person.  

For his many fans and admirers, the director's wife posted a photo of a smiling Menzel on Facebook.

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