Something like Happiness clinches seven prizes at Czech Lion Awards

Best actress in a leading role Tatiana Vilhelmova, photo: CTK

Featuring the lives of a group of young friends who live in a shabby housing development in a poor industrial region in Bohemia, Bohdan Slama's film "Stesti" or "Something Like Happiness" has received broad critical acclaim both at home and abroad. On Saturday, it clinched seven prizes at the Czech Lion Awards (Cesky Lev) - the country's own national version of the Oscars.

Best actress in a leading role Tatiana Vilhelmova, photo: CTK
Besides best Czech film, it won best director, best script, best photography, best actor in a leading role and best actress in a leading and supporting role. The film's producer, Pavel Strnad, never would have dreamed of such success:

"In the beginning, we didn't expect to make a hit at all. We loved the story but it was quite a difficult one, so we were happy that it turned out to be a real success. It has been great motivation, especially the unexpected 'best film' and 'best actress' awards at the San Sebastian film festival. And then everything that has come after that...we really enjoy that."

Spain's San Sebastian "A" category film festival is certainly the film's best success yet but Something like Happiness, also won a number of prizes at other international festivals. Even audiences across the Atlantic loved the movie. Linda Mastalir actually saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, and she's here in the studio now. Linda, if you could start of with a brief description of the film?

'Stesti'
"Well, Dita, like you said, it's about a group of young people, who are about in their late twenties, and their growing up in a north Bohemian post-industrial town. Many of them live in a concrete apartment building, so it's quite a depressing setting. Essentially, if I were to sum it up, the film is about how they are trying to find their own way in life and in love. For example, one of the boys goes off to America and he expects his girlfriend to follow him but she ends up staying to care for her own friend's two children. This young friend is a single mother and she's terribly irresponsible. But the story, of course, ends up being more complicated because she is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. So, there are many layers to the story, not the least of which is how difficult it is to diagnose and to treat a mental illness."

But it does sound to me like it's a very "Czech" film - a group of friends in the grey pre-fabricated block of flats, the kind of film that reflects the Communist legacy, which I would expect is difficult for people in the western countries to relate to. Why do you suppose it has done so well?

'Stesti'
"It is a Czech film in the sense that it is definitely set in a setting that only Czech or other Central Europeans would understand. But one of the great things about 'Something like Happiness' is that it does a beautiful job of showing what life is about and how relationships are formed and how important they are to our lives. It also tells the story of how we take responsibility for our lives as we grow up. So, these are all themes that are international in a sense, it's not necessarily only a post-communist film. So, I'm definitely looking forward to Pavel Strnad's next project."

He's actually working on something now but all that he would reveal to me was this:

"It is set in a small village and it is called 'Country Teacher'. He is also the main character in the story. But I won't tell you any more about it now [laughs]."