Tallinn: Debut Helmer Jelinek Hits the ‘Road-Movie’ Genre

Road Movie
Courtesy of FAMU

“Let’s go, then.” First-time director Martin Jelinek sets out his intent with three simple words in his Tallinn Black Nights Festival Tridens Competition entry “Road-Movie.” From the Czech Republic, the film stars Matej Marunka as Jakub, the co-owner of a Prague travel agency who, ironically enough, is stuck in his job. Taking the weekend off to visit his hometown for his mother’s birthday, he meets Ilona (Agata Krystufkova), an old childhood friend, and together they make plans to drive off and escape.

Jelinek acknowledges that the road-movie genre is generally viewed as an American genre. “But, paradoxically,” he says, “the films that come to mind and that inspired me aren’t American — like (Wim Wenders’) ‘Alice in the Cities’ or ‘Kings of the Road.’ Of the American ones I’d mention just the one, (Vincent Gallo’s) ‘The Brown Bunny.’ European filmmaking was always capable of delving into genres and, as a result, finding more depth than the Americans, not to mention the development of language in all kinds of genres.”

Interestingly, genre was not the starting point; the primary impetus was that Jelinek was about to graduate from the FAMU Film and TV School in Prague, where he studied under Vera Chytilova, Jan Nemec and Petr Marek. “We also felt quite frustrated with the state of Czech filmmaking over the last few decades,” he explains, “when to go to the cinema to watch a Czech film meant being ashamed or bored (although of course one finds exceptions, for example, the work of Jan Svankmajer or Ivan Vojnar). So when these two aspects fused together, an urge came not to just shoot feature films but to shoot them differently.”

And so the idea of making a road movie grew organically. “We had several themes that we were interested in,” he says. “We had the characters, a partial conception of the theme and the final sense that we wanted to instill in the audience. That the film would be a pure road-movie was decided on only gradually as the plot developed — this genre helped us develop the story towards our goal of what we wanted to say. And what are essentially archetypes of the genre — girl, boy, convertible, long journey over the horizon — we wanted to include those things directly, so that the characters themselves realized, or accepted, that they were experiencing their own road movie, in the same way as the audience.”

“Road-Movie” producer Kristyna Kvetova, attending Black Nights for the first time, appreciates the festival’s focus on first features, acknowledging that, as a beginner in the industry, the festival offers a “bigger space,” both artistically and professionally, than the likes of Cannes and Toronto. “And if I think about ‘Road-Movie’ in particular,” she adds, “I believe that it can also find its audience among young people here — the film is maybe not that easy to approach. Even though it is a road-movie genre and a bit of a ‘romantic’ film, it is still a film experiment in some ways. But I believe the main topic and idea will be familiar to young people, who will appreciate the youthful point of view that Martin brings to his film.”

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