Private Universe
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Private Universe

Malick's Tree of Life meets its Czech mate.

DIRECTED BY HELENA TŘEŠTĺKOVÁ (Czech Republic, Special Presentations)


Friday, April 27, 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, 1:00 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 (350 King Street West)

The remarkable Private Universe owes its origins to The Miracle, the 15-minute debut from veteran filmmaker Helena Třeštíková. Released in 1975, it featured a young Czech couple named Jana and Petr, and documented the birth of Honza, their first child. From those humble beginnings, Private Universe has become no less than a non-fiction analog to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, down to the fact that both prominently feature the stirring strains of Bedřich Smetana’s Vltava. Though Třeštíková’s film assumes a far more accessible form, she matches Malick for epic ambition, following Honza and his family for 37 years, from 1974 to 2011.

As Honza grew and was joined by two sisters, Petr began a journal, and Třeštíkova continued to film. Four decades later, their respective recordings form the basis of Třeštíková’s singular family portrait. From Petr’s musings on Honza’s first teeth, first steps, and first days at school, to the latter’s teenage discoveries of pot and punk, to Jana and Petr’s reflections as empty-nesters, Private Universe intimately portrays the phases of a family’s evolution.

But in a further parallel to The Tree of Life, Třeštíková also sets her subjects’ experiences against a cosmic context. Inspired by Honza’s early fascination with astronauts, as well as their prominence in communist propaganda, she employs archival footage of Cold War–era space missions to chart Czechoslovakia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Also encompassing the nation’s subsequent, harmonious dissolution, Private Universe truly lives up to its title as a merging of the modest and the momentous.

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