It’s a hard life in the European Parliament, Brussels, enjoying the very reasonably priced bar and canteen, free access to internet/printer/phone/fax and, most important, the chance to watch the three contenders for the European Parliament LUX Cinema Prize 2008 in an auditorium specially constructed for that very purpose. Our man thinks he’s found the winner…
Without doubt, one of the finest ‘fly-on-the-wall’ films in recent years, and under the direction of Pavel Koutecky (and Miroslav Janek, who took over production following Koutecky’s untimely death in 2006 after he fell from a tall building) Občan Havel (Citizen Havel) emerges as a sincere, adult, amusing but also poignant tribute to Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel during his two terms of office (1993-2001).
Obviously having enjoyed enormous access to the president’s daily grind, the directors (along with editor Tonička Jankova) skillfully construct a warts-and-all take on both the minutiae and mainframe of running a country, with the non-judgemental camera’s eye presenting the foreground and background to Havel’s numerous events of state. Interestingly enough, Havel the public and Havel the private seem to be pretty much one and the same, that’s to say, a man of genuine good humour with his feet firmly on the ground.
But there’s genuine emotion here, too – along with many other famous faces, The Rolling Stones make an appearance, as they misbehave somewhat while being shown round the presidential quarters. Then, in a moment as jarring as it is moving, the sudden death of Havel’s beloved wife, Olga, shakes the man to his very core – but the country must go on.
The man’s past life is also revealed – at one time one of Czechoslovakia’s leading playwrights, and unapologetic opponent of the country’s pro-Soviet regime, for which he spent five years in prison – and what emerges from this riveting (and often highly amusing) account, is the sense that Havel was very much the right man in the right place during the country’s stormy recent past.
120 mins. In Czech.