Unlikely friendship between policewoman and gang boss centre of new Czech doc

'Helena’s Law', photo: archive of Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival

A documentary screened on Czech Television earlier this week included unprecedented candid interviews with members of Prague’s criminal underground. But while it focuses on the notorious Berdych gang, Helena’s Law also explores the unlikely friendship that developed between the group’s leader and the policewoman who put them in jail.

'Helena’s Law',  photo: archive of Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival
Helena’s Law (Zákon Helena) was one of the most talked about works at this year’s Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival and was shown on Czech Television on Tuesday.

The film centres on one of the country’s most notorious crime gangs, whose leader David Berdych gave evidence against associates in exchange for a reduced prison term.

Remarkably Berdych develops a friendship with Helena Kahnová, the elite police woman who helped put 50 members of the gang behind bars.

At one point we even see her show the crime boss pictures of her beloved dogs over a nice glass of wine, shortly after his release.

The documentary’s director Petra Nesvačilová describes how the relationship came about.

Petra Nesvačilová,  photo: Martina Kachlíková
“Helena and her colleague Tomáš Gregor put him in jail. They spent many long years trying to put him behind bars. But then when Berdych really tried his best to work on himself in prison, she said, OK, I trust you, I’m going to wish you luck.”

Another striking aspect of Helena’s Law is the degree to which members of Prague’s underworld were willing to speak on camera to Nesvačilová.

That said, one crime boss whose face is not shown makes chilling threats against her before later retracting them, saying he had been in a bad mood. In her narration, the director admits to feelings of anxiety.

“I was always scared when they said things that, for me, were quite unpleasant or painful. Like that they had hurt people, or that they had robbed them. One just doesn’t do those things, and I wondered how somebody could speak about them as if they were normal. It was a real eye-opener.”

'Helena’s Law',  photo: archive of Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival
As for why the gangsters were willing to open up to her, Nesvačilová agrees that it may have been due to the fact that she was a filmmaker rather than a journalist – and also that she was a woman.

“Absolutely. One hundred percent. That really helped a lot. There were a lot of women in my team. And to a certain degree, being female also worked for Helena. When it came to the moment of divulgence or confession, the gangsters were more willing to do it because it was in front of a woman. That’s the way it is.”