Documentary film takes Polish perspective on legendary Czech songwriter and singer Karel Kryl

'Bratříček Karel', photo: Artcam

A new documentary film just out takes a Polish angle on the life and works of the celebrated Czech songwriter and signer, Karel Kryl. And it could well be an eye-opener for many Czechs.

Photo: Artcam
Symbolically, the new documentary film by Polish director Krystyna Krauze about the famous Czech anti-communist song writer Karel Kryl was released in the Czech Republic on November 17, the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communists from power in 1989.

“Bratříček Karel” though takes a Polish perspective on Karel Kryl, who was forced into exile in West Germany from his homeland in 1969 after getting into trouble with the authorities for his opposition to the 1968 Soviet-led invasion.

Kryl became known to many Poles through his broadcasts on Radio Free Europe, for whom he worked first as a freelancer and then as an employee from 1983. But he had forged links with many Poles in Prague more than a decade and a half earlier as they also opposed the crushing of the so-called Prague Spring. One of them was to become the famous film director Agniezska Holland.

Krystyna Krauze takes up the story:

'Bratříček Karel',  photo: Artcam
“His first significant meeting with any Poles was with Agnieska Holland, at the time a student, and with other Polish students. He met them at the protest strikes in November 1968. I think the strikes were a sort of life changing moment for him.”

In the aftermath of the strikes, Kryl went to Poland where he had already recorded some of his songs in Polish. But it was in the 1980s that Kryl’s songs became hits in Poland, although many Poles humming the melodies and the words were not too sure who he was. Altogether 16 of Kryl’s songs were recorded in Polish with the Czech songwriter credited with capably mastering the foreign language. Krystyna Krauze:

“At that time in the 1980s he was simply a star. Although we did not know who he was, we listened on Radio Free Europe or thanks the recording which Antonina Krzyszton made as an underground album in Polish. Today, Karel Kryl has been forgotten about a bit and I hope that with this film Poles will remember him again and know who he was.”

The film boasts archive film that has not been seen until now in the Czech Republic and stresses the different paths that dissent and anti-Communism took in Poland under the leadership of Solidarity and in the then Czechoslovakia. Footage, for example, shows Kryl performing at a celebrated concert in Wroclaw, Poland, on the eve of the Velvet Revolution when he was still banned in his homeland.

'Bratříček Karel',  photo: Artcam
Krystyna Krauze got to know Kryl during the 1980s. She was part of the protest movement in Poland and later studied film in Czechoslovakia. Kryl helped her out financially to complete her studies and she describes the film as in some ways a repayment of past debts.

Kryl died back in Germany in 1994, disillusioned with the direction his homeland had taken after the Velvet Revolution.