Menzel star turn and Slovak militia doc among Czech highlights at Berlinale

The Interpreter, photo: Garfield Film

The first major international film festival of the year, the Berlinale, gets underway on Thursday. The Czech Republic is being represented at the prestigious showcase by three films, including one starring veteran director Jiří Menzel and a documentary exploring the life of a young paramilitary leader in Slovakia. Ahead of the festival, I spoke to Markéta Šantrochová of the Czech Film Center, who will be promoting the country’s cinema in Berlin.

The Interpreter,  photo: Garfield Film
“We have three films in the programme.

“Two of them are fiction films, The Interpreter by Slovak director Martin Šulík, a co-production between the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, and another co-production, Touch Me Not, the debut film by Romanian director Adina Pintilie.”

And Touch Me Not is in the main competition?

“Yes. It’s in the main competition.

“And The Interpreter is in the Berlinale Special programme.

“That’s also connected with the Berlinale Camera, an award that the quite famous Czech director and actor Jiří Menzel will receive on February 23, which is also the date of the premiere of the film and also his birthday.”

Mr. Menzel has had health problems and had to undergo brain surgery. Will he be attending in person, on what will be his 80th birthday, to accept this award?

“It is planned so. But to be perfectly honest I cannot confirm 100 percent that he will be there.

“I hope he will.”

Does he have a big role in the movie?

“Yes, he has one of the two main roles.

“It’s the story of two men who meet by coincidence and then go on a journey back to history and travel to unveil the truth.

When the War Comes,  photo: HBO
“One of the main characters is Jiří Menzel and the second one is the Austrian actor Peter Simonischek, who people may know from Toni Erdmann.”

Also being screened in Berlin is the documentary When the War Comes by the director Jan Gebert. Could you please tell us something about that?

“I think it’s a documentary that very much speaks to what’s happening now in many territories.

“It’s a very personal story of a young man who has founded a paramilitary group in Slovakia, and they train.

Markéta Šantrochová,  photo: Czech Film Center
“He himself has been trained by Russian Cossacks, so he has some training of that kind.

“He is building this in order to bring tradition and Slovak values back to life.

“But it develops and at the end he is also, probably, aiming to enter politics.

“This all brings quite a lot of questions as to whether it is a really a return to values or a totalitarian direction.

“It’s very interestingly made.”