Blu-ray Review: Diamonds of the Night | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, July 2nd, 2020  

Diamonds of the Night

Studio: The Criterion Collection

May 22, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Credits roll, almost achingly slowly, over a black screen. There’s no music; it’s eerily silent save for the occasional chiming of a distant bell. All of a sudden the weighty calm breaks, silence replaced with incomprehensible shouting, the mechanical clamor of a freight train and the terrifying sound of machine gun fire. And thus begins the most famous opening scene in Czechoslovak film history: two boys running, stumbling, climbing a perilously steep, uphill ascent as they flee the train from which they boldly escaped. It is one long, nearly-uninterrupted shot as the starving boys push their bodies to the brink of exhaustion, shedding the coats that marked them as prisoners bound for the concentration camp. Shot over four single takes across several days, it’s an intensely physical task, and the painful, muscular fatigue can be read on the actors’ faces even through the shaky camera work. You get a true sense that these young men are running for their lives.

They escape, and Diamonds of the Night begins. Jan Nemec’s 1966 feature debut was an international sensation and a standout film of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Those who’ve never seen it will be forgiven for mistaking it for a war film, however – although the backdrop places it firmly against WWII and the Holocaust, Diamonds is more an exploration of the boys’ crumbling mental states as exhaustion, injury, and starvation take hold than a film occupying its specific historical period. Diamonds is a frequently nightmarish work of surrealism, nodding more to Luis Bunuel than any of the realist European filmmakers of the Post-War era.

Through nonlinear editing and a highly detached and exaggerated sound design, Nemec’s vision plays like a terrifying fever dream. Plot-wise very little happens in the film: the boys spend most of its scant, 66-minute runtime wandering through the woods, sleeping, and scavenging for food. (There’s even less dialogue, without a word being spoken until nearly 16 minutes in.) They’re ill-equipped for survival, and decreasingly healthy. Fever sets in, and we frequently cut between reality and the boys’ memories, dreams, and visions. None of it feels particularly reliable; details appear noticeably off, and the scenes increasingly dreamlike. When they encounter a woman at home alone on a farm, the audience is treated to numerous outcomes of their meeting: in one, she appears to seduce the younger boy, while across others she is repeatedly assaulted and even killed. Finally, she appears to take pity on them and offer them bread – but when the boys greedily eat it, they must spit it out as blood pours from their mouths. Diamonds does not plainly state which of these scenes are fever dreams and which is reality, leaving it up to viewers to decide for themselves. Even the ending is intentionally open-ended and ripe for interpretation, leading to multiple (and viable) theories as to the boys’ fates.

Reality and vision become more obscured as the film nears its end; in the second half of Diamonds it becomes as difficult to trust the movie’s audio as it has the visuals. In one extended dream-memory, the audio is replaced with an un-synced track which sounds like disconnected café chatter. When the boys are captured by a group of octogenarian hunters, the volume accentuates the sound of their disgusting, toothless chewing to make the scene even more unnatural, frightening and off-putting. Although the movie certainly benefits from the 4K restoration on this new Criterion Blu-ray, the sound mix is truly where the upgrade benefit lies. What Nemec achieved acoustically in Diamonds is just as integral as what happens on-screen, and this mix here is much clearer and more present than any previous presentation we’ve encountered.

This Blu-ray edition is packed with extras, the most notable of which is Nemec’s earlier short film A Loaf of Bread, adapted from another work by the same author as Diamonds and sharing several of its stylistic and thematic ties. A visual essay by Irena Kovarova traces Nemec’s career before and after Diamonds, and another from scholar James Quandt pinpoints the director’s influences, drawing parallels to works by Resnais, Bunuel, and Bresson. Also included are a pair of archival features with Nemec, who passed in 2016. It’s a fine package, and a great tribute to an important Czechoslovak auteur whose career never lead him to success in Hollywood like his classmate Milos Forman. Diamonds of the Night remains as powerful and poignant today as it was on release, and among the most provocative debuts in film history.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Life Coach Vancouver
June 2nd 2019

Thank you Austin for the post! Ill have to check this out