Director Havel delivers a Ruritanian romance
Ex-President Václav Havel doesn’t expand his play ‘Leaving’ to fill the big screen, and that limits its appeal — and perhaps its foreign audience
by Theodore Schwinke
21.03.2011 - 17:27 © ČTKVáclav Havel — himself the subject of many films — went behind the camera to make the celluloid version of his most recent play
Readers advisory: The following film review contains unfettered criticism and a general lack of romanticism which some devotees of Václav Havel may find offensive. Reader discretion is advised.
It is not Czech Position’s practice to abuse filmmakers, restaurateurs and other creative professionals unnecessarily. We don't think our readers need us to point out every single turkey there is. We do, however, want to warn our audience when the gap between expectation and reality is large enough to pose a risk to their time and money.
Expectations of “Leaving” (Odcházení), the new film by playwright and former Czech President Václav Havel, are high largely because of Havel’s status as an international statesman and man of letters. His name is shorthand for the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe. Some remember the absurdist theater dramas that made him a dissident in the first place. The rest of us find out from Wikipedia.
“Leaving” is an adaptation of Havel’s only play since he left Prague Castle, a bitter comedy about a politician stepping down from office. Havel has said time and again that the play is not autobiographical. It just happens to be the story of a beloved leader leaving office penned by a beloved leader shortly after leaving office.
Buc FilmJosef Abrahám gives a lifeless portrayal of a politician leaving office
As such, the film is in a schizophrenic battle with itself. In his script, Havel makes fun of his reputation as a lady’s man, casts his current wife, actress Dagmar Havlová, as the protagonists common-law wife, drops his own name and gives himself a cameo. Write what you know, I guess.
We meet former Chancellor Vilem Rieger (Josef Abrahám), his family and courtiers at Rieger’s official residence. Rieger laments to a reporter (Jiří Macháček) that cynicism has infected politics. His concerns turn quickly to the impending loss of his beloved villa, which the country’s new leaders insist he vacate. Family and advisers prove to be false friends. Rieger sells out to the new powers, and everyone rides off in a stagecoach.