Jan Saudek, Czechoslovakia’s most famous living photographer, is the subject of this often-shocking kaleidoscopic biopic by friend and colleague Adolf Zika. With an unblinking eye, Zika chronicles the drama-filled life and work of a controversial artist who, though little-known in the United States, has enjoyed international acclaim throughout his fifty-year career.
Saudek’s hand-painted, sepia-toned portraits have a nineteenth-century veneer but a decidedly postmodern sensibility. Shooting his models both clothed and unclothed, he captures now moments of exhilarating grace, now bizarrely explicit—critics might say prurient—tableaux: A woman in a filmy white gown leads two naked girls into a grim industrial landscape. A haloed baby peers with statements over the brawny shoulders of a naked man. A nude contortionist makes like a flesh pretzel, squatting at the feet of a clothed man in an armchair. Three women dressed like bawdy-house habitués play musical instruments in one image, then appear naked, their expressions giddy and their instruments at rest, in a companion piece.