An excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Hames

Martin Šulík is one of the most distinctive directors to have emerged in either the Czech or Slovak republics in the post-Communist period. He has made eight feature films alongside some significant documentaries recording the film cultures of the two countries. While he originally intended to study drama and gained admission to VŠMU (The Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava), he graduated there in Film and Television Directing in 1986. In 1984, he nonetheless played the lead role in Vladimír Balco’s film Angle of Approach/Point of View (Uhol pohľadu). His graduation film Staccato (1986) attracted international attention and he made several documentaries prior to his feature debut with Tenderness (Neha, 1991). He also works in theatre production and exhibits as a painter.

Both of his first two features, Tenderness and Everything I Like (Všetko čo mám rád, 1993), can be related to the final years of the Communist regime and to the real and imagined experience of new and unknown social and political realities. Martin Ciel hailed Tenderness as the most promising debut by a Slovak director since those of Juraj Jakubisko, Dušan Hanák, and Elo Havetta in the late 1960s. Zuzana Gindl-Tatárová, who worked on the film, suggests that it marked a radical departure from existing conventions, which had been restricted by ideological requirements and ‘the unwritten laws of classic narrative composition’. With Tenderness he ignored ‘the psychological classification of characters and the precise identification of place and time’.

The script was written by Ondrej Šulaj, a writer who had been associated with a number of important films in the 1980s, including The Assistant (Pomocník, Zoro Záhon, 1981), Cage of Wild Beasts (Pavilón šeliem, Dušan Trančík, 1982), Silent Joy (Tichá radosť, Dušan Hanák, 1985) and Down to Earth/Curator of the Open Air Museum (Správca skanzenu, Štefan Uher, 1988). Although a ‘specialist’ screenwriter, Šulaj emphasises the fact that his work is always collaborative. ‘It’s never been the case that I would write a script and somebody would then take it on. It’s a process of a minimum of 8 to 12 months working together’.

Like Hanák’s Private Lives (Sukromné životy, 1990), Tenderness analyses human relations in the early years of post-communism, a world still profoundly affected by the moral corruption characteristic of the years of ‘normalisation’ (i.e. the twenty years following the Soviet invasion of 1968). It examines the relationship between a young man Šimon (Gejza Benkő), and an older couple, Viktor (György Cserhalmi), and Mária (Maria Pakulnis), whose relationship spans a complex trajectory that ranges from tenderness to cruelty. Initially a bystander, he slowly becomes part of their relationship and – at Viktor’s instigation – sleeps with Mária. However, despite the moral vacuum in which they all live, he fails to live a life separate from convention. Eventually, there is a kind of explanation. The roots of the relationship lie in the past and are linked to a corrupt system. However, this is no straightforward relationship and the film’s ‘explanations’ merely form part of an overriding atmosphere and social reality.

There are similarities to Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (Nóż w wodzie, 1962) and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) but its analysis of close male-female relations is perhaps closer to that of Ingmar Bergman (especially Scenes from a Marriage/Scener ur ett äktenskap, 1973). The parallels with Bergman are increased through the performances of two experienced stage and screen actors in the roles of Viktor and Mária. Viktor is played by the Hungarian star György Cserhalmi and Mária by the Polish actress, Maria Pakulnis. Apart from his work with Miklós Jancsó and Béla Tarr, Cserhalmi has also played in a number of Slovak and Czech films while Pakulnis had worked with Kieślowski (Dekalog 3, 1989) among others. The ‘international’ casting is yet another factor in dissociating the film from a particular time or place. In fact, Šulík has observed that this also created a strange tension and that much of their acting emphasised pauses and silence, sometimes resembling dance. As Gindl-Tatárová suggests, the film does not directly reflect the times – rather ‘a certain feeling of the period’.


Peter Hames' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Slovakia, 1991
Main feature: 108 mins
Special features: 55 minutes
Sound: 1.0 Mono LPCM (48k/164-bit)
Original aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Language: Slovak
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 10 Aug 2020


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