Štefan Uher and Milka Zimková: She Grazed Horses on Concrete (Pásla kone na betóne) 1982

reviewed by Kevin Brochet © 2005

Can She Grazed Horses on Concrete Be Considered Uher’s Film?

While at first glance She Grazed Horses on Concrete seems to bear little resemblance to Štefan Uher’s acclaimed earlier film, The Sun in a Net (Slnko v sieti, 1963), and is almost unrecognizable as his work―due most likely to the influence of Milka Zimková, the author of the original novel, co-author of the screenplay, and the film’s lead actress―the two films have much in common. Both films attempt to portray (and were successful with audiences because of this attempt) the natural look and sound of life for a certain segment of the population of Slovakia; both employ dialect or realistic speech in novel and sometimes experimental ways; both strive for a degree of verisimilitude despite varying degrees of stylization or artifice and differences in locale―The Sun in a Net details contemporary urban youth in Slovakia, She Grazed Horses on Concrete focuses on a collective farm located in a village in the countryside. Both films also spotlight aspects of teenage culture, especially music; both are driven by plots fousing on sexual mores; and both find some absurdity or magic in everyday life, something to be expected of films tangentially connected with the Czech New Wave (but in ways that differ from the Czech method). There are, of course, many differences as well. Certainly, She Grazed Horses does not simply reprise the plot of The Sun in a Net by relocating it into a rural setting. The important point, however, is that twenty years later the director retained his individuality in working on what was essentially someone else’s film.

The most striking similarity between the two films is the use of diegetic music (Rudolf Pavlíček was sound editor for The Sun in a Net; Milan K. Némethy for She Grazed Horses). Both films deal with the social, primarily romantic-sexual interactions of teenagers to the sound of a rock-and-roll soundtrack. With the exception of the incident between Jirka (Ivan Klečka) and Štefan (Ľubomír Paulovič), the scenes at the amphitheatre in She Grazed Horses could have fit seamlessly into The Sun in a Net: they sound the same, with a background of tinny quasi-western music.

Some features of the dialogue in the two films also adopt the same approach to language, one that differs from the practice in most Slovak cinema. She Grazed Horses on Concrete employs dialect, hybrid language, and realistic speech to capture the sound of conversations in the East Slovak dialect. Such a divergence from standard Slovak was innovative and continues to be rare in Slovak film. While the motivation for this device may have had its roots in the original novel and the script that Zimková developed from it, the execution lies with the director. Uher had already experimented with rendering natural language and dialogue on screen: in The Sun in a Net he attempted to make his teenagers sound like real teenagers. Whatever the shortcomings of his attempt, he was accurate enough that the younger members of the audience saw themselves in the film and helped to make it a success in theaters. The Sun in a Net even went as far as using tapes of unscripted conversations. Though they matched up poorly with the visuals and were used sparingly, they represented an early experiment in rendering the real sound of life in Slovakia. Uher also had a history of employing non-actors in his films: individuals were cast in The Sun in a Net because they played those roles in real life. The laborers in the film sound more like real laborers than actors merely mimicking their speech.

Uher’s use of dialect provides verbal authenticity to She Grazed Horses as well; it is a natural continuation of his concerns. The film was successful, at least in part, because audiences could again hear the sounds of everyday life. At the same time, Uher’s use of dialogue in She Grazed Horses is much more mature. Rather than experiment, he fully integrates non-standard speech into the film, although some of the lines are as artificial as those of the blind mother (Eliška Nosáľová) in The Sun in a Net. The only character in She Grazed Horses whose speech sounds especially artificial is Johanka’s brother’s, Michal’s (Mikuláš Laš), who has a much smaller role and so stands out less than the mother. While She Grazed Horses employs other instances of artificial dialogue, they are integrated into the storyline and motivated by the plot—for example, in the scenes where Johanka Ovšená (Milka Zimková) recites her artificial lines as an amateur actress during the rehearsal of a play. Although her lines reveal that she is in love with the teacher and amateur actor (Jiří Klepl), these lines actually come from the poorly written script of the play, creating a moment of humor in the film since the audience at first assumes that she is speaking on her own. As in the first film, such utterances seem to express the personal truths and feeling of the speaker, but in She Grazed Horses, the speaker actually has a reason to use language in such a way.

The episodes around the play in She Grazed Horses immediately bring to mind The Sun in a Net. The staging of the play on the pasture, where a shot of a temporary stage (built in an open truck) is framed by green pastures with cows grazing in the foreground, seems bizarre and yet authentic; it is not a fabrication—sometimes culture was brought to collective farms in such a way. Because the stage-trailer is presented so matter-of-factly and yet seems so out of place, it is reminiscent of the opening scene of The Sun in a Net with its alternative world of rooftops amid television antennas; a world whose quaintness and reality would not have been recognized had the director chosen not to emphasize them. These two images of the unappreciated unreality of everyday life have something in common with the Czech New Wave, but since they are primarily stylized images of things rather than lingering scenes of people, the two films have more in common with each other than the New Wave, which Uher’s films have book-ended.

Both films are concerned with moral problems relating to sex and relationships, especially amongst teenagers. The cast of characters of The Sun in a Net includes an ideal older couple, a woman ruined by a broken marriage, and four teenagers sorting out issues of conquest and fidelity. She Grazed Horses on Concrete revolves around a woman who in her youth gave birth to a fatherless child and has had to deal with the repercussions for the rest of her life, and her struggles to prepare her daughter for life after she has made a similar “mistake.” The immoral center of each film is a blonde girl who has a foolish affair. This, of course, is also what is at the center of a classical film of the Czech New Wave, Miloš Forman’s Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky, 1965).

Kevin Brochet (University of Pittsburgh)

She Grazed Horses on Concrete (Pásla kone na betóne) 1982
Slovakia (Czechoslovakia) 1982, 78 minutes
Director: Štefan Uher
Screenwriters: Milka Zimková (also story), Štefan Uher
Cinematography: Stanislav Szomolányi
Music: Svetozár Štúr
Production designer: Anton Krajčovič
Editing: Maximilián Remeň
Cast: Milka Zimková, Marie Logojdová, Veronika Jeníková, Valéria Jergová, Peter Staník, Jiří Klepl, Ľubomír Paulovič, Tamara Simková
Production: Koliba (Bratislava)

Štefan Uher and Milka Zimková:She Grazed Horses on Concrete (Pásla kone na betóne) 1982

reviewed by Kevin Brochet © 2005

Updated: 21 Dec 05