It has been six years since the father-and-son filmmaking team of Zdenek and Jan Sverak last premiered a new film, making their latest Vratne Lahve - Refundable Bottles - a much-anticipated project. Over the years the father and son, who won the Best Foreign film Oscar for 1996's Kolya, had something of a professional "falling out" when son Jan rejected an earlier version of his father's script. But both eventually found consensus on a final version and are now back at full force.
Zdenek a Jan Sverak, photo: CTK
Zdenek Sverak, actor and screenwriter, and son Jan Sverak, director, are nothing if not legends in the Czech film business. Since the 1990s the two have teamed up to produce some of the country's most-memorable and financially most-successful films, including 1990's Elementary School - which was nominated for an Oscar - and 1996's Kolya, which clinched it. Their latest film, which premieres in Prague this Thursday is Vratne Lahve, translatable as Refundable Bottles, about a retired former teacher who tries to escape the emptiness of "a life in retirement" by taking work at a local grocery store. Zdenek Sverak, who played the role, spoke to journalists on the eve of the film's premiere:
"The inspiration for the story was a real guy in Prague who worked in the refundable bottles section of a store I used to go to. He never spoke a single word and you could never get a word out of him. It really began to bug me. So I started wondering what it would be like if it were me in his place. I got the idea for a character who was communicative, in a more old-fashioned type of store where people used to talk to each other."
Zdenek Sverak and Jan Budar
The supermarket in Vratne Lahve, many reviewers have noted, is a microcosm of broader society in general, presenting a wide array of characters in different life situations: weighing matters of loneliness, love, and mortality. One of the roles - that of a soft-spoken and overlooked "loser" - was played by popular actor Jan Budar:
"Both Jan and Zdenek are unusually talented and I was extremely happy when I learned that I had gotten the part. Both are very friendly, smart, and entertaining and working for them was interesting and exciting and a great learning experience. As far as I can see they have a great relationship - in everything they do."
Vratne Lahve has already gotten strong reviews from a number of well-known Czech critics including Mirka Spacilova, who has hinted it is a better film than Kolya, the Sveraks' 1996 Oscar-winner. In the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes she described the film as more intimate and less sweet than Kolya, and stressed that in this case waiting for a better script, while no doubt personally difficult for both Sveraks, paid off.