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Welcome to Absurdistan: Eastern European Cinema 1950 to 1989

November 2 – 24

Welcome to Absurdistan — or more accurately Absurdistán, the Czech phrase that conjures up a distant nonsense land. But, in fact, the word signifies the absurdities homegrown in Czechoslovakia and other former socialist republics of Eastern Europe from the end of World War II until, for most of them, the revolutions of 1989. This program marks the thirtieth anniversary of the liberation of the former “people’s republics” from their previously socialist and Soviet-dominated regimes, a shared sensibility of the absurd uniting these diverse nations as well as their films. The title of the series recalls the theatrical and literary tradition of the absurd—specifically the famous postwar plays and their style of theatrical presentation—but with a significant difference: the Eastern European sense of the absurd brewed over the centuries when the peoples of the region could not determine their fates. The absurd then overflowed in the gaps between the ideals and realities of their socialist states: between the happiness they were supposed to enjoy and material hardships they faced. Unlike the aesthetic of the absurd in Western Europe, the absurd in the East was a personal, everyday experience. Glossy or stark, scathing and playful  the films express the ludicrousness of authoritarian rule through creative varieties of absurdity. We are pleased to present Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak films, many in North American premieres of restored prints from their national film institutions. The series is organized in association with Gabriel M. Paletz of the Prague Film School.

still from I Don't Like Mondays
courtesy Studio KADR

Film Programs

The National Gallery of Art’s film program provides many opportunities throughout the year to view classic and contemporary cinema from around the world.

View the current schedule here.

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