Diamonds of the Night

Jan Němec’s thrilling, dreamlike film following two boys on the run from the Nazis comes to Blu-ray

Film Review by Ben Nicholson | 18 Jan 2019
  • Diamonds of the Night
Film title: Diamonds of the Night
Director: Jan Němec
Starring: Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera, Ilse Bischofova
Release date: 21 Jan
Certificate: 12

Jan Němec’s Diamonds of the Night opens, propulsively, in media res with two boys desperately running for their lives. An intimate handheld camera stays uncomfortably close as they stumble in and out of frame and across scrubland, wheezing up a hill as rifle shots and shouts of ‘Halt!’ ring out. As they claw at the earth and help pull each other to safety, the lens feels like a third member of this terrifying race for freedom.

While the context is later confirmed – via flashbacks showing white paint daubed on the boys’ coats and scenes in a prisoner transport train – as Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Němec isn’t interested in historical examination. This almost dialogue-free debut feature is an attempt to place the viewer in the minds of these two boys, for better or worse. Surreal allusions to Buñuel are both horror and hallucination, while exhausted reveries reveal dreamlike snippets of life immediately before transportation.

Perhaps the most unsettling scene of psychological projection comes when a farmer’s wife gives one of the boys some bread and we see various iterations of the boy's fantasies of killing  and raping her – only to return to her moments later in search of milk. His deteriorating mental state is clearly evident through formal theatrics, but his desire to survive remains the driving force behind what little narrative development there is and the film’s engrossing spartan aesthetic.

Extras

In addition to the extras on Second Run’s original DVD release of the film, the Blu-ray version includes Němec’s FAMU graduation film, A Loaf of Bread. It is effectively a short prelude to Diamonds of the Night, both of which were inspired by Arnošt Lustig short stories. The disc also includes a new filmed interview with Lustig’s daughter, Eva Lustigova, and a new audio commentary by Michael Brooke.


Out on Blu-ray on 21 Jan from Second Run; certificate 12