A visit to set of ‘Leaving’, Václav Havel’s debut as film director
The former president Václav Havel has had many professions in his life – poet, playwright, dissident, revolutionary, president, and published author. Now, at the tender age of 73, he’s adding a new string to his bow – film director. He’s currently directing a feature film version of his most recent play, Leaving, which is about – what else? - a politician trying to adjust to a new life after leaving politics.
“I’ve been quite surprised at how quick and smooth everything is. I come up with an idea on the set, I tell the person standing next to me about it, and the next day - we’re filming it. It certainly wasn’t like that when I was president!”
‘Leaving’ tells the story of Vilém Rieger, the former chancellor of an unnamed country, locked in a battle of wills with his successor, the unsavoury Vlastík Klein. It’s a King Lear-like contemplation on a politician’s frustrating impotence at finding himself slowly being forced out of his beloved government villa, with several of Havel’s favourite actors among the cast. They include his wife Dagmar, who plays the chancellor’s wife, Irena.
The Havel family are closely connected with Czech film; his uncle Miloš built the famous Barrandov film studios, and his grandfather built Prague’s first permanent cinema in Prague’s Lucerna Palace. His grandson grew up around ‘film people’; he himself wanted to go to film school, but the political atmosphere of the 1950s forced him to consider theatre instead. Tomáš Sedláček, one of his former advisors, says his former boss is truly a jack of all trades.
“He’s got this very strange and unique mixture to do very many things, I mean one doesn’t realise how many things he’s actually been through; playwright, poet, to a degree, dissident being jailed, being a writer, being the president for many, many years, being the ex-president, that also takes a lot of work and strain, then he wrote a successful play, a book, and now he wants to direct his own piece. That’s a very, very wide spectrum. Many people don’t realise that.”