Jitka Rudolfová's "Zoufalci" looks at the life of thirty-somethings in Prague

"Zoufalci" started out as a thesis film. It was then picked up for production by Czech Television and is currently showing in movie theaters across the Czech Republic. I talked to the film's director, Jitka Rudolfová, who just finished her studies at Prague's Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU), about the unexpected success of her film.

There are many funny but sad scenes in the film Zoufalci. In one of them, a young woman visits a shoe store where her gay best friend works. After having hastily departed from the apartment of a man she spent the night with, she realizes too late that she left her shoes inside, and calls on her friend to lend her some shoes so she can go to work.

Jitka Rudolfová’s film “Zoufalci” or in English, “Losers,” deals with the lives of six friends, all in their thirties, who have moved to Prague from the small town of Jablonec nad Nisou, where the director herself comes from. All of them have come to the Czech capital for different reasons, but what unites them is that they were all hoping to escape the ramifications of small-town life and looking for a fresh start- from the unhappily married Dagmar to the promiscuous Sylvie.

The film captures them at a time when they are beginning to realize that the changes they had hoped for in moving to Prague would not happen. Czech media dubbed the film a manifesto of a whole generation- Czech 30-somethings who have all the freedom they could ask for but still find themselves dissatisfied and forever searching. I asked director Jitka Rudolfová if she intended the film to be a portrait of a generation.

“I have to say that the feelings and themes in this film are just the feelings of my friends. It was just about what I see around me, about my close friends. Some media wrote that this is a generation film about thirty-something’s, but I don’t think that I can speak for a whole generation of people in their thirties, it was just feelings that I wanted to convey in the film, and those were very close to me, because it was about stories that happened to my friends and me.”

Your film is very funny in certain moments, and very sad in others. Would you say that it is a sad movie or rather, a comedy?

“I think it depends, the producers want to present the film as a comedy, because people want some fun in the cinema, so I think from that standpoint, it’s better to present it as a comedy, but I don’t think it’s a comedy, maybe a tragicomedy, I wanted it to resemble real life, because in real life, there are tragic moments, but there is always some humor in them.”

In some ways, the film is shot more like a documentary than a feature. Why did you decide to go with that style?

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“I don’t like to separate features and documentaries, I like the mixture of both styles, because there is the reality of life and you have the possibility to do some stylization as well.”

So, in terms of the script, and actually shooting it, how much of it is actually from the script and how much is improvisation?

“Mainly, the script is based on stories as told by my friends. We were sitting together like we are sitting together right now, and I would ask them questions about their lives and they would talk about what happened to them, and then I wrote it all down, and I made it into a script, so it’s very authentic.”

I asked Jitka Rudolfová why she thinks that the people of her generation often seem desperate and lost at an age when her parents’ generation had usually settled down and started raising children.

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“I think because we have lots of freedom. I mean by freedom that we have too many choices, and maybe it can be quite depressing, because you never know if the way you choose is the right way and I think that our parents got married much earlier than us, they had children when they were twenty years old. Now there is no need for us to get married so soon. Maybe it’s a question of disillusion and desperation because the possibilities are so huge and I think there is no real meaning in life for some, for me. You start to question if there is a sense in life because you see all the bad things around you, in politics, with the environment, in peoples’ lives and in the way they treat each other so it’s about wanting to find the sense in life.”

Even though the main theme of the film is desperation, Mrs. Rudolfová does not think that her film ends on a sad note- three of her characters decide to leave Prague and move to a farm together, the three others surprisingly bail out.

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“I think [the ending is not sad] because there are three people who achieve what they wanted to do, they reach their goal, and I think they’re on the right path. The other three are on a new path, but I think they will keep repeating their mistakes.”

Zoufalci originated as Jitka Rudolfová’s thesis film for the Prague Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU). The film was turned into a feature and was produced by Czech Television in collaboration with Negativ Film. It is currently showing in movie theaters across the Czech Republic.