Tonda is different from other eleven-year-old boys. He’s been shining since birth. His light does not harm anyone, but they are ashamed of him. He therefore makes various masks to hide himself from the other tenants in the old house where he lives with his parents and two young siblings. But mother and father sometimes overdo it with their care. They literally hold the shining son on a leash and don’t allow him to go further than the snowy backyard. However, Tonda longs for freedom and friends. He doesn’t want anything else from Jesus.
Just before Christmas, his wish comes true. Slávka enters his life. A girl of the same age has just moved into one of the apartments with her mom, a former ballerina. She’s not like other kids either. He escapes from reality into the colorful world of imagination. Her visions take concrete shape when she turns on her magic flashlight. Tonda is the only one who can see what’s going on in his new neighbor’s mind. And he is impressed. Similarly, Slávka marvels at how the boy from the upper floor shines. A fragile friendship develops between children who understand each other in their otherness.
The inner worlds of Tonda and Slávka are not strictly separate. They overlap. In the house where the film takes place, they represent exceptions. There is animosity between the neighbors. They don’t want to and can’t listen to each other. When they run into each other in the corridor, they exchange wary glances and instead of finding common ground, they demand compliance with meaningless rules. They prefer to withdraw from the common space to their own dwellings, which also differ from each other in color. But they don’t feel happy there either.
The last link connecting the subtenants and keeping peace in the house is the ailing janitor. However, the enterprising Ms. Bečková, whose color is aggressively purple, is already pushing for his place. She wants to concrete the yard and build a parking lot there, she would like to turn half of the apartments into offices, following the example of the developers. Because of people like her, the spirit of the house, its genius loci, also dies. He used to illuminate the building with light. Gradually, however, he absorbed so many negative emotions that he completely blacked out. Now there is a threat that when the last bulb bursts, the apartment building will be engulfed in darkness.
Ghibli, Aardman, Pošivač
Tonda, Slávka, and the magical light is the dazzling feature-length debut of Filip Pošivač, book illustrator, author of several short films and the main artist of the popular animated series Mlsné medvědí přebýdy. His first “big” film was immediately shown and awarded at the prestigious Annecy festival. Together with the authors of the animated films Electra and Deniska died, he thus earned the biggest festival successes of Czech cinematography this year.
The sophistication of its story and the animation, which does not reveal any concessions, make Tonda equal to the great foreign productions from Henry Selick or the Ghibli and Aardman studios. Some creative ideas also refer to them. But above all, Pošivac sensitively revives and updates the tradition of Czech puppet animation, dating back to Hermín Týrlová or Jiří Trnk.
The production of the film took a respectable 362 days, which can be seen from the meticulousness of the puppets and decorations, between which the dynamic camera of Denisa Buranová, who is still shooting feature films and documentaries, freely descends and rises. The images, glowing with colors and funny details, give way to children’s imagination, but thanks to the visible textures of the materials used, they are also anchored in reality. For example, a pile of duvets and pillows is transformed by the imagination of the characters (and creators) into a giant magical cave, into Tondo’s refuge from the chaotic outside world.
The images look so breathtaking that you want to stop and enjoy them for a while – like a view of the aurora borealis, which the play of lights sometimes reminds of. But there is no room for pause and contemplation in the tight-knit scenario of the writer Jana Šrámková, winner of the Jiří Orten Award. The story is easily accessible to a younger audience with its humor, plot and child heroes. On a deeper level, however, it can appeal to, entertain and move even adults.
Shine in the crowd
The director’s brother, who felt out of place among his peers in his youth, provided the initial impetus to write the theme. They mocked him because of his red hair. Viewers who have experienced or are experiencing the feeling of exclusion for any other reason – due to high intelligence, body weight, glasses, introversion, neurodiversity… The film, through the protagonist, very gently and accurately describes the experience of a person who does not fit into the collective represented here a ramshackle house with many floors, but he would like to find a place and a purpose in it.
Slávka, sensitive to the whole spectrum of lights and colors, gives Tonda courage. He is apparently the first person who accepts him wholeheartedly and at the same time does not limit him with his excessive care. With his friend’s support, Tonda realizes that his light may not be a limitation he needs to hide, but rather a gift he can share…and perhaps experience the adventure he’s been longing for. Like the mythical Theseus, which his father tells him about during home schooling.
From similar references, it is evident that the layered script develops the motif of acceptance, rejection, and the journey to light on multiple levels. For example, the lovebird’s parakeet, which, like children, does not just want to sit in a cage, is courted by some kind of exotic bird. In nature, different coloration – unlike in human society – is apparently not an obstacle. The heroes learn about the ghost of the house, which at first seems like an intruder, that it has been living in the place much longer than people. In short, it belongs there. Just like Tonda and Slávka.
An inquisitive girl traveled the world with her mother. Now she has finally found a background where she feels at home. Not because of a greenhouse in the backyard or a grand staircase that can be a lot of fun when the janitor isn’t looking. But because of a person with whom she can share an enormous amount of thoughts, because she knows that he will understand her. The adventure that Tonda and Slávka experience together in the bowels of the mysterious house leads to this knowledge. The environment we live in will always be a reflection of our relationships. That’s why we should take care of them. Despite the differences.
Filip Pošivač’s debut is, after Matěj Chlupaček’s Úsvit, the second Czech film this year that comprehensively addresses how we relate to otherness. It’s probably just a coincidence that both films hit theaters shortly after each other. But it is not a coincidence that both of them talk about the obstacles that prevent us from understanding and thus indirectly reflect the progressive breakdown of social ties. Dawn is quite skeptical about restoring a sense of safety and belonging. The moving finale of Tonda, Slávka and the magic light, where one selfless act is enough for a miracle, offers hope instead.
The emotional ending, despite its fairy-tale nature, is not banal. Just as the whole film is not banal. Timeless in message, world-class in processing. And one of the best that was created in our country. Not only this year and not only in the genre of children’s animation.
Movie: Tonda, Slávka and the magic light
Animated / Family / Adventure
Czech Republic / Slovakia / Hungary, 2023, 82 min
Screenplay: Jana Šrámková
Cast: Michael Polák, Antonie Barešová, Ivana Uhlířová, Matěj Hádek, Jana Plodková, Pavel Nový, Jaroslav Plesl, Sabina Remundová, Eva Holubová, Linda Křišťálova