Prague, Czech Republic – “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,” goes one of the most famous statements by Vaclav Havel, playwright, dissident, and former Czech president. Drawing on Havel’s legacy, a new Czech historical biopic simply titled Havel asks, “what would you sacrifice for truth and love?” And the Czech audience seems to be intrigued.
Directed by Slávek Horák and starring Viktor Dvořák in the title role, the new biopic about the first Czech president has been the most watched movie in Czech cinemas for past two weeks.
Taking place between the years 1968 and 1989, the film follows Havel’s journey from a successful playwright, turned dissident, turned human rights defender, turned the leading figure of the Czechoslovak velvet revolution.
But if you are looking for a movie that focuses on Vaclav Havel’s time as president, this is not the movie for you. Instead, the director Slavek Horak said the portrayal will go beyond “the portrait of a statesman” to focus on Havel’s turbulent personal life, haunted by the state secret police and notorious love affairs.
In line with this premise, the biopic displays the contrast of Havel as a man of principle when it came to human rights, but much less so when it came to his personal life.
At the heart of the movie is also Havel’s relationship with his wife Olga, who stood by him through the most difficult periods in his life, including his time in prison. For this reason, a large part of the film was shot in the Ruzyne prison in Prague.
Moviegoers have also praised the striking similarity between actor Viktor Dvorak and Havel himself.
But despite relative box-office success, the first major release following the coronavirus crisis and closure of most cinemas in the country has been met with mixed reactions by critics, who criticize Havel’s portrayal as superficial. The critic Kamil Fila said that the film shows Havel only as a “muppet” and not as someone who had the power to lead and unite various political groups.
Nevertheless, foreign critics and audiences alike might appreciate this new take on one of the Czech Republic’s most influential personality which sheds light onto the not so familiar aspects of Vaclav Havel’s personal life.
Havel marks the second feature for director Slávek Horák, who made his debut with 2015’s Domácí péče (Home Care), which received seven Czech Lion nominations including for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
Still feeling shy about hitting the theatres this summer? Or just looking for movies to watch during those long summer evenings? Check out our list of the five best Czech cult movies currently on Netflix!