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‘Art Talent Show’ Review: Witty, Wise Czech Art School Doc

‘Art Talent Show’ Review: Witty, Wise Czech Art School Doc

“Self-presentation, right?” says a teacher and whizzes unimpressed through the box of an applicant for the next semester at the art school. “It’s extreme self-presentation and absolutely nothing else,” another shrugs, noticing the painted, penis-shaped vibrator that is also part of the submission, and observing dryly: “The main thing is that it is covered in silver spray.” Welcome to the 2020 audition week at the Prague Academy and to Tomáš Bojar and Adéla Komrzý’s irreverent but strangely optimistic “Art Talent Show”, a documentary less about art or talent than about the Sisyphean task of assessing one and nurturing the other.

Consequently, we do not see too much of the works of art themselves, perhaps just enough to be deeply grateful that we do not have the job the teachers do. Instead, Bojar and Komrzý, two documentaries working together for the first time, focus on the different processes and approaches used by the various studios to win down the current crop of applicants, and on teachers’ conversations with each other and their potential students during during these stressful, exhausting and, presumably for some, heartbreaking days. (The film ends diplomatically just before the final elections are announced, so we will never know whose hopes, exactly, were shattered.)

Like the races of Frederick Wiseman documentaries about institutions and the communities they serve, certain personalities gradually emerge, but never at the expense of the bigger picture. Kateřina Olivová and Darina Alster, the joint leaders of the New Media studio, are particularly lively, with their close ties and odd-pair vibe providing a cozy yet confrontational interview technique. Both queer women, their chats with students are often about gender and sexuality, as when a student’s pansexuality makes the two quarrel lovingly about whether bisexuality is an outdated concept.

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But then it seems that such identity issues, along with concerns about social justice, occupy a large proportion of incoming students, which also makes the “Art Talent Show” a sharp commentary on the generation gap. Painting professors Marek Meduna and Petr Dub, whose questions are deliberately designed to push students into unpleasant debate, are briefly fascinated by a non-binary student’s use of first-person plural (strangely enough, their artwork seems to consist of nothing but lovingly drawn male genitals). Later, Meduna and Dub get a vegan applicant to admit that she really wants to try human flesh.

It helps that most aspiring artists themselves have an inherent desire to provoke: A videographer vividly describes an installation site that revolves around the idea of ​​infecting a partner with AIDS as a means of stopping them from cheating; another applicant, who fills out the written part of an exam, chooses to cover the answer sheet with light orange paint. The guiding professor mildly suggests that the art historians and theorists who evaluate these tests may not be so well-liked, and it is true that we see that the orange paper receives an overwhelming response from the panel of markers, who have already been carefully entertained by the students’ eccentric understanding. of what a basilica is.

The spread of the film’s attention over so many days, so many disciplines and so many discussions can make it a nervous experience if it were not for the serenity of the elegant camera work Šimon Dvořáček. And every time the tempo gets too choppy, editor Hedvika Hansalová gets to cut back on Dvořáček’s signature image: a nicely framed wide of the entrance to the academy guarded by an elderly lady sitting behind a glazed reception, a bit like she was a work of art on display.

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Such an imaginative perception has hardly arisen for this woman. In the interaction with students and the faculty, she seems like a solid no-nonsense type. Her down-to-earth attitude provides a scathing contrast to all that goes-experimentalism in the rooms upstairs, where what a teacher jokingly describes as the institute’s “phallocrats, egoists and sociopaths” sets increasingly strange tasks and exercises, as a blindfolded trust. go to a nearby park, or a sudden urge to scream as loud as you can.

The enjoyable, absorbing film seems ready for a healthy run at the documentary festival, but its deserved victory in the Proxima section of Karlovy Vary – a rare triumph for a non-fiction film in a series heavily weighted against fiction – also signals its availability to general festival and arthouse -audience. Because whether you look at this enlightening document as a portrait of an institution, a snapshot of a generation, or a sketch of the commitment and perseverance they show in the teaching profession, the “Art Talent Show” can withstand a sharp comparison with the different styles and modes of artistic expression it shows. Just not, maybe, the silver-colored, spray-painted dildo.

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