Behind-the-scenes Vaclav Havel documentary opens at Berlinale

12th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

The two-hour-long Citizen Havel gives a humourous and modest portrait of the former dissident and Czech president.

Prague/Berlin -- A Czech documentary which offers an authentic and captivating glimpse into the presidency of country's iconic post-communist leader Vaclav Havel had its international premiere Monday outside competition at the Berlin Film Festival.

The two-hour-long Citizen Havel gives a humourous and modest portrait of a man also shown as a meticulous master of ceremonies relentlessly staging his presidency's every rite.

Filmmakers had followed the 71-year-old former dissident playwright turned Czech president for 13 years, amassing 120 hours of material, including 70 hours of images and 50 hours of sound.

They captured political dramas behind closed doors, silent pain after his late wife Olga's passing, and abrupt bouts of anger caused by what he perceived as narrow-mindedness of his fellow countrymen.

"I needed a shot of his arriving at work," chief cinematographer Stano Slusny told DPA. "He walked over to shake hands every time. I said, I will come tomorrow again, please don't pay attention to me. But he could not help himself."

The film's then-director and mastermind Pavel Koutecky tragically plunged to death in 2006 while shooting another film at a Prague skyscraper construction site.

The film's producer subsequently asked filmmaker Miroslav Janek and his film editor wife Tonicka to transform the raw material into a feature-length documentary.

Such a film could have easily slipped into a stuffy accolade, but Havel's artistic open-mindedness resulted in uncensored authenticity.

"He took his job extremely seriously...while not taking himself too seriously," Janek told dpa. The film is laden with self- deprecating jokes and effortless humour.

"Aren't my pants too short?" Havel quipped during his third inauguration, referring to the famously short trousers he wore during the same event eight years earlier.

When Havel failed to sound a tone on a saxophone - a gift for former US president Bill Clinton - he joked, "This is some kind of schlock."

Yet he had exhaustively staged even the most minor events. On one occasion he demanded a vase by his favourite architect at his side during a speech to boost his "presidential style".

"His incredible pedantry was omnipresent," Janek said. "There are scenes of meetings when he lights a candle every single time. Basically, it betrays Havel the playwright."

DPA with Expatica

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