Citizen Havel (2008)

By Silver, Jon | Film & History, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Citizen Havel (2008)


Silver, Jon, Film & History


Citizen Havel (2008)

Citizen Havel (2008)

Directed by Pavel Koutecky and Miroslav Janek

Distributed, with subtitles, by Aerofilms

www.aerofilms.cz

120 min.

The direct cinema doc Citizen Havel covers the decade long rein of the Czech Republic's first president, Vaclav Havel. The film attempts to show how Havel creates a job and builds a country but too often uses charade to keep interest. Authence boredom prevails as the film sits entrenched in Czech-only issues and deep politics. The film's breadth requires oft-unfinished short story lines; the film also drags along the unnecessary story of another politician to potentially influence current Czech politics. The film has fascinating construction but ultimately fails to construct a cohesive story with wide appeal.

Václav Havel is a famed Czechoslovak playwright turned dissident who was imprisoned for five years and led the successful anti-communist revolution, but you wouldn't know that by watching this film. The film commences with a stocky middleaged Havel diverging from conversation of his future presidency to an anecdote of accidentally eating dog food. As he greets crowds, the jovial president hears "Long live Havel" and "We live only for you." With only the filmic knowledge, and not knowing Havel's policies or previous actions, these loving statements seem unsubstantiated and misplaced.

At best, Citizen Havel shows fleeting moments of Havel's greatness. He is an idealist who refuses to fib even though it seems politically wise: "I am the president of truth, not the president of lies." One questions whether the camera's presence influenced Havel's actions but just as camera cover was consistent, so were Havel's actions rendering speculation historically unimportant.

Historically, Havel's greatest presidential success killed the Warsaw Pact and brought his country into NATO. The film abashedly covers these endeavors. Havel remarks that he will run for a second term to pursue these two goals, yet the scene of Havel actually signing the NATO treaty has no mention of that act's importance. Rather the scene uses the setting to show Havel's disdain for American food - Havel's greatest action takes a backseat to his humorous taste buds. The portrayal of Havel solely as goofball is a disservice to the man and the people he led, even if he was a goofball. The hyper film mocks the man instead of praising the hero. A combination of both would have been fitting, but this mockery without praise when praise is deserved is sheer manipulation.

The Czech Republic is small. With 10.2 million people, it has roughly the same population as Michigan. The film has international aspirations, as signified both by its Berlinale screening and by statements from director Miroslav Janek. But, much of the film is heavily entrenched in "Czech-only" issues. Czech journalist Terza BrdeDková watched the film's authence in Berlin and said she "could feel from one moment to another that there was a sort of- not boredom - but something like misunderstanding amongst this foreign authence" Although Citizen Havel is the most successful Czech documentary ever, due to the country's size, the film's greatest authence will be foreigners. Foreigners will be lost in the politics and situations facing the Czech Republic as many as sixteen years ago.

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