Film follows Czech playwright-president

PRAGUE — Vaclav Havel, one of the more complex figures to emerge from the former East Bloc, comes to life in ways that surprise even his own countrymen in the docu “Citizen Havel,” screening at Berlinale.

Some 13 years in the making, pic benefits from rare, behind-the-scenes access granted to helmer Pavel Koutecky, who died in an accident on the set of a subsequent docu about Base jumpers in 2006.

Co-director Miroslav Janek finished the film and editing, resulting in a two-hour tour of the playwright-president’s administration and his often comic struggles to stay on top of things in a newly minted democracy.

Havel, now 71, had been jailed under the old regime for writing plays and essays critical of the state. He was swept into the presidency after Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution toppled communism in 1989 and remained in office through 1992, the year Koutecky began lensing.

The film is first and foremost about the almost painfully soft-spoken and often fussy intellectual, and captures him stressing over whether his suits hang right and relishing a visit from the Rolling Stones and Bill Clinton’s sax solo at a Prague jazz club.

Czech critics and auds, who don’t lay accolades on Havel nearly as often as his admirers abroad do, have clearly been won over as well.

“Reviews are fantastic,” says producer Pavel Strnad of Prague’s Negativ. Strnad says he never doubted that “Citizen Havel” would work.

That might seem clear to any Western producer, but in is native country, Havel has often been eclipsed in the spotlight by his rival, the conservative Vaclav Klaus, who was prime minister during much of Havel’s reign.

Havel, who was hospitalized in January with heart arrhythmia and bronchitis, has returned to work on a new play inspired by his presidency, which will open this year in New York and Prague.

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