Private Century is anything but a scholastic exercise, and in many ways the text-driven narration is but a mere context for something far more revelatory and engaging: the home movies themselves. Perhaps it is just because film was more expensive than video, or that Sikl and his editors were highly selective, but the material chosen reflects more than haphazard, clumsy documentation (though, like all of our birthday and holiday VHS tapes, this is sometimes the case). There's an awareness of the film language, the way it works, and the way it can be manipulated. Many of the amateur filmmakers seem to have absorbed the conventions of various cinemas (narrative, experimental, erotic), which reappear throughout Private Century in surprising and surprisingly effective manifestations.
Other episodes also exhibit homemade mini-narratives: "With Kisses From Your Love" (about a photographic studio's futile efforts to maintain independence and hold on to their controversial archive) features an unfinished film about the adventures of "Chestnut Man" who floats down streams on a raft; in "Statuary of Granddad Vinda" (about a marginalized sculptor's struggle for acceptance and employment both before and after the rise of Communism), everyday dinner is rendered extraordinary through sudden appearances of guests, plates, and food, in the manner of Georges Méliès; and in "Daddy and Lili Marlene," we are privy to the private moments of a husband's softcore portraits of his wife.
The vital importance of home movies to their makers comes to the forefront in the last two episodes, "Small Russian Clouds of Smoke" and "Low Level of Flight," both of which concern the same circle of Russians exiled to Czechoslovakia after the Revolution. In the former, the insular community of émigrés is so assured that the political tide will soon change they never bother to learn the language of their new home, yet still they document their passing days, months, and eventually years, imbuing this seemingly transitory period with an otherwise unacknowledged significance and permanence. And in the latter, a pilot's illegal aerial footage suggests that the danger of being caught was more than worth the ability to relive a transcendent experience time and again, and that as a filmmaker he was able to create that perfect cinematic sensation that he sought as a viewer. Such is the rare satisfaction that few viewers, or indeed makers, are ever able to achieve.
Like You Know It All (2009) (Region 3 NTSC DVD) - Last year, Manohla Dargis blasted the New York Film Festival for including Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day, writing that "programmer loyalty seems the only explanation for [its] inclusion... a meandering, bloated bore." One year later, we are deprived of his latest film, about a drunken filmmaker on a journey that (in Hong tradition) winds up being more about him than his work. Maybe there isn't a connection and I'm just bitter that I can't watch it in the newly finished Alice Tully Hall. Now is when you should be glad you (or your new best friend) has an All Region DVD player.