Zelenka in post-production of anticipated Karamazov film

Petr Zelenka, photo: CTK

Petr Zelenka has long been recognised as one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation, whose quirky films including a mockumentary about a famous Czech folk singer have been well received by both critics and wider audiences. This summer, the director completed filming on The Karamazovs, a film - as the title makes explicit - which takes inspiration from Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky's greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Zelenka is now in post-production, but already the film is being viewed with great anticipation, a story which follows the lives of a number of Czech theatre actors and their performance of the Karamazov story in Poland.

Petr Zelenka,  photo: CTK
Director Petr Zelenka:

"I try to keep the play and the text in the film very simple: from Dostoyevsky we have the story of the lawsuit, basically, and it's a bit of a detective story, that's how we treat it. We focus on the family and the question 'Who killed the father?' and it works perfectly on that level. Around the play - which is being rehearsed in a factory -around the play is a very simple tragedy of one of the factory workers, whose son is injured when he falls from a staircase. During the rehearsal the worker gets a phone call that the son has died during an operation to save him. An absolute personal tragedy. But he stays and watches the rehearsal and actually all the actors begin performing just for him. It becomes a performance for one viewer, one spectator."

Ivan Trojan,  photo: CTK
Layers within layers might be one way of describing The Karamazovs: the adaptation has a longer history in the Czech Republic as a theatre play at Prague's Dejvicke Theatre, which Zelenka adapted for film using much of the same talent. One of the actors is the popular Ivan Trojan. As an actor Trojan can be difficult to pin down, many of his roles being gentle and humorous, somewhat offbeat, but in The Karamazovs, the director says, the actor put together his finest performance to date:

"He is passionate, always very well-prepared, and he is unique in the sense of always knowing what theme he is playing. Sometimes he doesn't 'do' much in the sense of facial expressions or grimaces and it's just other people talking to him, but somehow he manages to deliver the theme to the viewer in a very crystal-clear form. That's what is unique about him."

The Karamazovs
There is also the contrast of Trojan - and others - performing as characters in the play, and then as "themselves" within Petr Zelenka's film:

"That's the beauty of course, the beauty of it: you can see the person changing from an 'actor' to a normal person, okay not normal really, but you can see Ivan Trojan changing from Ivan Trojan to Old Karamazov, and that's beautiful of course. He's not the lead actor, but he steals the show just a bit."

Alexandr Surkala with Petr Zelenka,  photo: CTK
Overall, some seventy percent of the film, reportedly takes place against the backdrop of the steel factory where the actors have been invited to rehearse and perform. The factory contains a rawness perfectly suited for Dostoyevsky, the filmmaker told journalists this week, and he and his cinematographer went to great lengths to capture the sheer rawness of the shooting space. Scenes from the play within the film were also shot in greater depth-of-field, to allow the actors more space and opportunity for greater fluidity and interaction. Alexandr Surkala was the head cinematographer on The Karamazovs: he told Radio Prague more about how he and Petr Zelenka approached individual scenes:

"The factory itself had a very industrial look and we were really looking for heavy, dark places with very strong blacks. I love to use lots of darkness and for the theatre I think that is helps set the atmosphere for the whole movie. The factory was really very dirty but we loved this, lots of 'patina'. The atmosphere really helped to provide a more depressing feeling and helped to bring the story into focus."

The Karamazovs
But light was also used to break up different layers of story, as well as to accent various moments of emotional tension:

"The final film I think is a mix of cooler with tungsten light and that's what we decided with Petr because we both love to mix different color temperatures for different atmosphere. Behind the windows you see real daylight, while inside you have tungsten. One the main stage we used lots of back lights and beams for dramatic effect, while in the 'real life' scenes we relied on natural light to provide a greater natural feeling to the story."

Petr Zelenka,  photo: CTK
At the same time, viewers should expect that although The Karamazovs may be grimmer than some of Petr Zelenka's past films, the film will also contain moments of quirkiness and humor. The director once again:

"It shows in the parts that are written around Dostoyevsky but also the way the material was adapted by the Dejvicke Theatre. But also Old Karamazov and Smerdyakov are sort of clowns, even the father is a sort of clown. Their relationship is that of a father and a clown and even the father is a clown. The tragedy is 'somewhere else' but Old Karamazov and Smerdyakov are funny people. And I kept that. That is where a lot of humor comes from."

The Karamazovs
Remarkably, The Karamazovs was shot in just twenty days, an unusually tight working schedule, one that required careful organization. To alleviate shooting, scenes were often filmed from two cameras to cut down on filming time, which, with wide-angle lens, provided their occasional problems of the cameras crossing into frame. A large number of material was also shot using Steadycam, in other words, handheld technology, to get closer to the scene, as opposed to a static approach to filmed theater. In post-production, Zelenka is also now waiting for music to set to the image. A final mix is set for next year.

The Karamazovs
"We're now at the stage when Jan Kacmarek is composing music for us and if I'm not wrong he got an Oscar for Finding Neverland two or three years ago, the film about the Peter Pan creator. That's his famous piece of music although of course he's been composing for twenty years. He's composing music for us now, in L.A., which I expect will be recorded in December."