Tuesday, February 14, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Citizen Havel goes on vacation

My friend Tereza convinced me to see the movie

by Jan Novák, a Czech filmmaker who has lived in the U.S. since the 1960s. Unfortunately I only had two minutes to pick my bike, so I went to Boston University in one of my favorite T-shirts, a yellow T-shirt produced in Asia and sold in Czech supermarkets for $1.50. :-) She rightfully criticized me (for example, we were sitting next to Jacques Rupnik, a well-known political scientist) but I told her: wait and you will see what dress the main hero of the movie will have.

I was just guessing but you may have noticed that some of my guesses are sometimes qualified guesses. Yes, Václav Havel had exactly the same yellow T-shirt throughout most of the interviews. :-)

What was the movie about? It was mainly a collection of interviews with former Czechoslovak dissidents combined with short videosequences that were designed to reconstruct a trip that Václav Havel planned and realized in August 1985. While the movie also describes some examples of the terror of the 1950s when the people were actually executed (like in the interview with an old priest), the main story from the 1980s was very different.

One may say that it is a movie about a peaceful co-existence of the not-so-secret policemen and Václav Havel as the dissident par excellence. In August 1985, Havel decided to take his Volkswagen Golf, make a trip and visit many friends all over Czechoslovakia. Most of them if not all of them were dissidents. The Reference Frame is the only place in the world where you can also learn that Havel went with his mistress, not his late wife Olga - not even the movie mentions this subtle fact. Jan Novák has shared the secret with us.

There is a large number of entertaining stories how the secret policemen not only frequently interrogate Havel but also follow Havel on every step. Literally. Havel's policemen is always 3 meters from Havel during his walk with Havel's dog. All these dissidents were supervised and they had to invent many smart tricks how to share information so that the regime won't learn. There are many cute stories about Havel helping the cops from their troubles, offering them tea, and so forth. The former dissidents who were interviewed include Jiří Dienstbier, Miloslav Kusý of Slovakia, Vlasta Chramostová, and others.

Another entertaining dialogue occurs in the interview with Ms. Vlasta Chramostová, a rather well-known dissident for those of us who used to listen to the Radio Free Europe in the 1980s, and her partner. They argue because they can't reconstruct what was exactly happening during Havel's visit of their house in 1985.

One additional interesting person who offered an interview was a cute communist policeman who obviously never intended to hurt anyone. At the very end of the movie, when the events surrounding the Velvet Revolution are briefly mentioned, he explained that no one had told him that a revolution could take place. Maybe not even his fellow friends policemen knew that they could wake up and a revolution might have been happening around. Some people asked Jan Novák whether the cop was serious, and Jan Novák confirmed my interpretation: the policeman was a complete idiot who had really no idea about the real world. Indeed, even in the 2004 when the movie was shot, he was still afraid that someone may arrest him for making an interview. This was the way how he understood the world.

Someone else has asked Jan Novák at the end of the movie whether it was politically correct to include a photograph of Havel dancing samba with black beauties, and Jan Novák answered that it is a matter of taste. Novák liked a president who could dance samba and this particular piece of work was his movie, not the movie of his critic. Jan Novák also had to explain what "spartakiáda" was: staged mass exercises including the whole nation that occured every five years and culminated with a huge performance of tens of thousands of people for the communist leaders in Prague's huge Spartakiáda Stadium.

Jan Novák had also included authentic pieces of the official TV news from the very relevant days of August 1985 into his document. I kind of remembered them but still, it was fun to see how incredibly vacuous news people had to watch every day. They would show you a sidewalk in the middle of a corn field and informed you that it is one of the most alive highways connecting two towns in Southern Bohemia and someone just did - some completely unimportant thing that I have forgotten.

Indeed, the story about Havel's trip may look mundane and the movie is not recommended to friends of wild action movies but the dissidents' lives were still much more interesting than almost anything that was officially happening in the country. Finally, the movie has confirmed my idea that the dissidents and their families were rather ordinary people.

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