Czech/Slovak pics in the pipeline

'Bathory,' 'The Empties,' 'I Served the King of England,' and 'Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)'


Director-screenwriter: Juraj Jakubisko

This $15 million pic is one of the most ambitious projects to come out of Central Europe in recent years. It’s a gruesome story based on the life of legendary 16th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was said to have tortured her countless victims and bathed in their blood.

Jakubisko takes another look at Bathory and the cruel and violent period when the states of present-day Central Europe were being formed.

“The reason this story appealed to me is that it is still relevant 400 years later.” says the esteemed Slovak helmer. “Elizabeth Bathory was destroyed, and the legend of her evil deeds was created by people with political power who wanted her castle and lands. People in power today are still ready to destroy to gain wealth and territory.”

The Empties

Director: Jan Sverak, Screenwriter: Zdenek Sverak

Pic is a bittersweet comedy about a teacher, Josef, who is forced to retire, but takes a job at a supermarket, where he is in charge of the empty-bottle return counter. It is helmer Jan Sverak’s first film since “Dark Blue World” in 2001 and only his second pic since 1996 Oscar winner “Kolya,” both written by his father, Zdenek, who also plays the title role in “Empties,” as he did in “Kolya.”

“It is probably the last film we make together,” Sverak says. “It is about getting old and nobody wanting you anymore.” He admits it’s difficult to imagine his charming father, one of the Czech Republic’s most beloved actors, as being unwanted.

“The script went through several rewrites until I was satisfied with it, so it has taken a long time for me to begin shooting. I did not want to work a lot after ‘Kolya.’ In my 20s I was so busy directing that I missed my children growing up, and I just wanted to spend time with my family. I have had a great relationship with my own father, and I guess I just realize how important that is.”

I Served the King of England

Director-screenwriter: Jiri Menzel

The battle over the rights to Bohumil Hrabal’s book, “I Served the King of England,” has raged for 15 years and includes one famous episode when an enraged Menzel attacked a producer with a stick in a hotel lobby during the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in an argument over film rights.

Menzel won an Oscar in 1966 for the Hrabal-inspired “Closely Observed Trains” and established himself as one of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave, but his post-communist helming efforts were panned by critics, and for more than 10 years he has concentrated on acting and directing in the theater.

Pic returns to a period of German occupation of the Czech Republic, and after waiting so long to direct, Menzel pins high hopes on the project.

“For 30 years,” he says, “my work has been interwoven with that of Hrabal. This novel is one of his greatest achievements — a view of the modern world and a segment of 20th-century history as reflected in the life of one man. My aim is to remain true to Hrabal’s lyrical yet unsentimental response to that world.”

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)

Director-screenwriter: Jan Svankmajer

Master of surrealism Svankmajer, describes this pic as a psychoanalytical comedy about an aging man who escapes into dreams to confront the childhood traumas that make him afraid of living.

“Fear of life is a basic human emotion,” he says. “Religion, creativity, love, sex, the accumulation of objects, the quest for fame, money, power are the substitutes with which we attempt to smother that deadly fear. If, as Freud tells us, the purpose of dreams is to fulfill our secret or manifest desires, then surely somewhere deep inside us, that most basic of human desires must be constantly fulfilled: to survive one’s own life.”

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