New Havel biopic hits Czech screens

Viktor Dvořák, photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

A new film about the late Václav Havel enters Czech cinemas on Thursday. Simply entitled Havel, the movie traces its protagonist’s journey from dissident to Velvet Revolution leader, while also depicting him as a flawed human being.

Barbora Seidlová,  Viktor Dvořák,  Anna Geislerová,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

At one point in the new biopic Havel the eponymous protagonist reassures his wife Olga that despite his other women she has always been his “first lady”.

While showing the immense pressure that the dissident came under from the Communists, the new movie – which premiered on Tuesday night – also gives some space to his extramarital affairs.

Havel is directed and co-written by Slávek Horák.

“That personal life helps the viewer to experience the story. Because few people can identify with being jailed or fighting against the Communists, as Havel did. But everybody can identify with a marital crisis or relationship problems, which Havel – like all of us – had with Olga.”

The film stars the relatively unknown Viktor Dvořák as the Czech democracy leader.

“I watched various documentaries. I also realised that Havel became president when I was 10 or 11 years old and I grew up on him. I realise now, looking back, that I’ve got him under my skin, that I took him in, among other ways through various speeches and interviews.”

Dvořák resembles Havel extremely, sometimes eerily, closely. But Kristina Roháčková, a film journalist with Czech Radio, says that this effect only carries the movie so far.

“The similarities are really striking, at first. The film starts with a scene where he is doing an interview with a foreign journalist. He’s speaking in English and when I was watching him it was really like watching an old clip of Vaclav Havel, because of the facial expressions and the similarities, the hard Rs in his voice. He was just smoking a cigarette and it was like watching the documentary Citizen Havel. But after some time it just becomes a non-factor.”

Roháčková says the new biopic is “not bad” – but may not be satisfying to viewers anticipating a depiction of Havel as a great man.

Slávek Horák,  Viktor Dvořák,  Martin Hofmann,  photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

“You kind of go into the film expecting it to be a portrait of a leader. And what you get is a portrait of someone who is, let’s say, weak. I think Václav Havel in this film is strong in some way, but he likes to say that he’s morally weak when it comes to women – and that’s a huge part of this film. He has a lover and he tells his wife Olga about said lover, and all the other lovers that come his way [laughs]. So it’s kind of a strange dichotomy, because Olga is the strong one in this story.”

Olga Havlová is portrayed by Anna Geislerová, while another of the leads is Martin Hofmann as actor Pavel Landovský, Havel’s firebrand friend.