Critics incensed as panned Menzel film becomes Czech Oscar nomination

'The Don Juans'

Many Czech movie critics have been up in arms this week over the country’s nomination for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. While the Czech Film Academy’s choice was the highly regarded drama Burning Bush, it doesn’t meet Oscar criteria and the Czech Republic will in the end be represented by the poorly-received new picture by Jiří Menzel.

'Burning Bush',  photo: HBO
Hořící keř, or Burning Bush, is a three-part mini-series exploring the aftermath of the death of Jan Palach helmed by respected Polish director Agnieska Holland.

After the four-hour series became a huge critical hit, producers HBO had a movie edit made and entered it in a Czech Film Academy vote on the country’s nominee for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is reported to have won by some margin.

However, Burning Bush has since been rejected by the organisers of the Academy Awards on the grounds that it had been shown on TV before entering cinema distribution.

This means that the film that came second in the vote, Donšajni, or The Don Juans, by veteran director Jiří Menzel will now represent the Czech Republic.

Tereza Polachová, a producer at HBO Europe, says in her view the movie cut of Burning Bush does meet the criteria for selection.

“We consider it as a new work which hasn’t been screened on any cable TV [stations] and which was premiered in September… We were first and The Don Juans was second, and I think that there is no argument about that. We weren’t considered by the American academy as being not eligible, and we respect that.”

'The Don Juans'
Menzel’s self-penned The Don Juans is a broad comedy set against the backdrop of a small town opera company. While the director won an Academy Award in 1968 for Closely Observed Trains, his latest work has been panned.

However, it hadn’t actually been released when the Czech Film Academy’s vote took place and members’ only chance to watch it was at a special screening.

Vojtěch Rynda is film critic for Týden magazine. He believes some backed it sight unseen.

“It is a well-known fact that the Czech Film Academy doesn’t watch Czech movies, or many of its members don’t. So they just assumed that the Oscar winner Jiří Menzel couldn’t make a bad movie. And he did. So the movie is basically the shame of the nation now!”

People seem to be quite angry that The Don Juans will be the Czech representative for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Why do you think people are so annoyed?

'The Don Juans',  photo: Mediapro Pictures
“I don’t know about the public in general. But I know that journalists are angry, because we have seen the movie and it’s, quite frankly, something that shouldn’t be shown outside the country.

“It already has good box office because people are drawn to the name of Jiří Menzel, but it is definitely not something that should represent us.

“It’s something that might work well on the domestic market, but at the same time it’s so generic that it could have been made anywhere else.”