I recently returned home from an 11-day vacation in Europe—seven days in Berlin and four in Prague. Though I admired both cities for very different reasons, Prague truly swept me off my feet. For years I have heard nothing but great things from friends and family that have visited the Czech Republic, but it wasn’t until planning this particular trip that I decided to make it a priority. Four days was not nearly enough time in this quaint, historic, and utterly charming city. If you can’t add it to your agenda any time soon, you can at least settle for a few films that either take place in Prague, or were used as the filming location.
5) Everything is Illuminated (2005) dir. by Liev Schrieber
Just as is the case with Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel of the same name, the film garnered a pretty polarized reaction. A young man (played by Elijah Woods) sets out to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II, and travels all throughout Ukraine to do so. All right, so the Ukraine is definitely not Prague. However, the primary filming location was Prague’s gorgeous countryside. It highlights the cities more rural, somber side.
4) The Illusionist (2006) dir. by Neil Bergman
Though the backdrop of the film is meant to be late 19th-century Vienna, The Illusionist was filmed almost exclusively in Prague or the greater Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the film was outshined by The Prestige (2006), which was released around the same time and also featured a narrative about a magician. Though the latter is a stronger film, The Illusionist is still a surprisingly nuanced and well-crafted story. The Prague Castle is featured, along with Konopiště as the Crown Prince Castle, and a slew of other beautiful gothic structures.
3) The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) dir. by Philip Kaufman
Tomas (Daniel Day Lewis), a Czech doctor, struggles with his emotions towards Tereza and Sabina (Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin respectively), two radically dissimilar women who want different things from Tomas. As all three become intertwined, Prague Spring begins to take place, and shifts their lives (and Prague) drastically. The film captures a palpable nostalgia of a pre-war Prague, and brings Milan Kundera’s atmospheric and melancholic words to life.
2) Mission: Impossible (1996) dir. by Brian De Palma
This classic Cruise movie not only takes place in Prague, but is also filmed there. It features the iconic Charles Bridge, Kampa Island, and the Old Town Square (when Ethan escapes into the square following the explosion of the restaurant’s aquarium). This film might be a little cheesy and campy at this point, but in all fairness, it’s what De Palma does best. Its suspenseful scenes and fun (albeit unrealistic) plot make it an undeniable staple of ‘90s action films.
1) Amadeus (1984) dir. by Milos Forman
I chose this film for the number one spot because, despite not actually being set in Prague (the city serves as a 19th-century Vienna), it is an incredible film, and it fully utilizes the gorgeous city. Amadeus chronicles the life of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) through the eyes of his envious rival composer Antonio Salierie (played by F. Murray Abraham, who received an Oscar for his performance). Although it is historically inaccurate in a few different ways, the film takes on a more subjective, unreliable narration, which ultimately does nothing but serve the film (it picked up a total of 8 Oscars). Filming locations include St. Giles church for Mozart’s wedding, Arcibiskupský Palác (or Archbishop’s Palace) for the Emperor’s Palace, and countless outdoor locations of Old Town. Amadeus is a stunning film and highlights the preserved historical beauty and charm that the city still offers today.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is Philly born and raised, and is currently pursuing her masters in film history at Columbia University. When she’s not organizing her Criterion DVDs by spine number, she can usually be found ostensibly reading a pretentious poetry anthology in the park while introducing herself to all the dogs.