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Slovak political thriller inspired by Jan Kuciak murder sets new box-office record

Bratislava, Slovakia – Inspired by the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, the political thriller The Scumbag (Sviňa) has become an instant box-office hit in Slovakia, setting a new record for a Slovak movie.

Grossing an estimated €633,047 with 98,056 admissions in its first weekend, the Slovak and Czech coproduction directed by Mariana Čengel Solčanská and Rudolf Biermann now boasts the best opening weekend for a domestic film in national theaters since 1993. It beat the previous opening record held by Peter Bebjak’s The Rift, released in January 2019.

An even better start than Star Wars and Avengers

In addition, “Scumbag ranks fourth in terms of the most successful openings in Slovak cinemas in the last 20 years,” revealed the film’s PR manager, Perla Žinčíková, adding that it had an even better start in movie theatres than US blockbusters and franchises such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Avengers: Endgame.

Three weeks after its release in 80 cinemas across the country, the movie has now grossed nearly €2 million. Due to strong audience demand, a version with Hungarian subtitles was also delivered.

Produced by Slovak CinemArt and Magic Seven, and Czech IN Film Praha, The Scumbag is based on a book of the same name written by the well-known Slovak journalist Arpád Soltész, an investigative journalist and former colleague of Ján Kuciak.

Thriller inspired by the real-life murder of Jan Kuciak

The film tells the story of a journalist who unravels an incredible web of crime, gangsters and extortion in a small, picturesque country controlled by high-ranking criminals and big business. Inspired the real-life murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova due to his investigation into alleged links between the Mafia and senior politicians, The Scumbag was released in Slovakia two weeks before the second anniversary of the notorious murder.

One viewer said on social media: “I have never experienced this graveyard silence and weeping of people when watching a film. When the end titles came up, everyone in the cinema started to applaud. I had goose bumps.”

Another wrote: “It has been a long time since I had such feelings of anger and sadness after seeing a film. The scene in the editorial office after the death of the journalist is the most powerful moment of the film. I applauded and cried at the same time.”

Unsurprsingly, the film is also becoming a talking point in the political discourse as the country’s national election approaches. Variety reports that in one political debate in the election campaign, Lucia Nicholsonova from the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) political party gave her political opponent Erik Tomas from SMER-SD a ticket to the movie, telling him that “after March 1st, our country will finally get rid of all the scumbags.”

The movie was screened yesterday at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.

Arpéd Soltész other book, Meat (Once Upon a Time in East), is also being readied for the big-screen treatment, for a release in 2021.

jan-kuciak-trial-marcek
Last month, Miroslav Marcek, one of the four accused standing trial for the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, admitted having carried out the contract killing. Credit: Sme

Press freedom under attack in Slovakia

The murder of Kuciak and Kusnirova nearly two years ago had sparked outrage in Slovakia and triggered mass protests that culminated in Prime Minister Robert Fico’s resignation and the election, last year, of Zuzana Caputova, a former anti-corruption lawyer and activist, as the country’s first female president.

Last month, Miroslav Marcek, one of the four accused standing trial for the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, admitted having carried out the contract killing of the investigative journalist and his fiancee.

In fact, rights groups and international organizations have warned of the deteriorating situation of press freedom in Slovakia over the past few years, most notably marked by the murder of Kuciak and by the Smer-led government’s attempt to push new media laws that watchdog groups warned seek to stifle freedom of expression.

Earlier this month, Slovak journalist, opinion writer and theologian Michal Havran, mostly known for his pieces for the Sme daily, came under investigation by Slovak authorities for an op-ed he published in June 2018 criticizing controversial Catholic priest Marian Kuffa.

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