Red carpets and long shadows
Ve stínu reaps five awards at Czech Film Critics Awards
Posted: January 30, 2013
By Hana Gomoláková
FOR THE POST
The third annual Czech Film Critics Awards started off rather gloomily Jan. 26 at Archa Theater.
"It was clear to me I couldn't really prepare for tonight, since it all depended on today's results," host Anna Geislerová said in her opening remarks. "Either I'd be euphoric over the victory I believed in and wished for or would end up in tears."
The actress was referring to the results of that day's election, and added that "a good film will influence our lives much more than any president."
Several of the artists expressed similar feelings in their victory speeches, giving the expression "a cloud over our heads" a tangible stage. This gave way to a sneaking suspicion that the Czech critics might have intentionally chosen the one film whose atmosphere reflected the evening's mood as the dark detective political thriller Ve stínu (In the Shadow of the Horse) started collecting awards one by one.
David Ondříček's noir detective story, set in 1953 Czechoslovakia right before the currency devaluation and the Stalinist show trials, took home five awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography. Undoubtedly the most dominant feature of the film is the superb near-noir camerawork by Polish cinematographer Adam Sikora.
"We had a great production and wonderful costume and art departments, which helped tremendously with the colors we wanted to see - we talked mainly about gray and black." He smiled and added that he is now called "The Prince of Darkness" in Poland because of the film.
Apart from the camerawork, critics mainly appreciated the honest craftsmanship: The film took six years to finish and saw 17 versions of the script.
"Neither David nor I wanted to make any compromises on this film," co-producer Kryštof Mucha said. "We wanted to see an honest film resulting from honest work, and we're happy this came through."
The story begins with a jewelry store robbery and evolves into a complex political suspense thriller tightening around Captain Hakl (Ivan Trojan) and his family. When State Security takes over the case, identifying Jewish immigrants as the primary suspects - claiming they are secret U.S.-backed Zionists - Hakl immediately senses something is off and starts investigating on his own. Enter the East German Stasi agent Zenke (Sebastian Koch), Hakl's antagonist, who is sent in by State Security to make sure the scheme sticks. The detective story unfolds as Hakl gets closer to the truth and danger. Both actors were nominated for their parts: Trojan as the lead and Koch for his supporting role.
A funny moment occurred during the Best Actor announcement as all three nominees had starred together in a Dejvické divadlo adaptation of the Irvine Welsh screenplay The Acid House, and Trojan accepted the award wearing his costume pajamas, thanking the theater and his colleagues Jaroslav Plesl, nominated for Čtyři slunce (Four Suns), and Miroslav Krobot, nominated for Okresní přebor: Poslední zápas Pepika Hnátka (Sunday League: Pepik Hnatek's Final Match).
In the Shadow of the Horse concluded the award spree with best original score award for Jan P. Muchow, Michal Novinski and their classical tunes.
Like In the Shadow of the Horse, Bohdan Sláma's Four Suns was also nominated in eight categories, but the film brought home only two awards in the end: Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. As in previous Sláma films, this subtle portrayal of a small-town family finds its characters struggling with their day-to-day lives and inner demons, this time adding a touch of spirituality. Critics appreciated the minimalist performance of the film and theater actress Klára Melíšková in the role of Evička, the wife of Karel, a spiritual prophet played by Karel Roden.
In the Best Actress category, critics awarded Gabriela Míčová for her intense and brilliant theaterlike work as the prostitute Romi in Jan Hřebejk's screen adaptation of Dušan Pařízek's stage adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Der Müll, die Stadt und der Tod (Odpad, město, smrt/worked into English as Shadow of Angels). They chose Míčová over Geislerová, who played a cheating, beaten-by-routine, desperate wife and mother in Four Suns and the Slovak actress Soňa Norisová's performance as Detective Hakl's troubled wife, Jitka, in In the Shadow of the Horse. Míčová, who knew her character very well from the stage already, was clearly truly moved and surprised by the award and thanked both directors.
Perhaps the most touching acceptance speech came from David Vondráček, the director of the winning low-budget documentary film Láska v hrobě (Love in the Grave) following a homeless couple's life at a cemetery. Produced by Tereza Krejčí and Krasimira Velitchková, the film was made over a period of five years. The recordings were kept at Velitchková's home and encountered peculiar events along the way: The attack of a neighbor's mice resulted in a significant amount of lost footage.
Vondráček was also nominated for the RWE Award for Discovery of the Year together with Iveta Grófová for her brave and raw filmmaking in the Czechoslovak tale Až do města Aš (Made in Ash) and Olmo Omerzu for his intimate debut, Příliš mladá noc (A Night Too Young), the only Czech representative at last year's Berlinale. Omerzu took the award home in the end, thanking his FAMU collaborators and wishing to make more films with his Czech colleagues.
Eva Zaoralová closed the evening with a toast, wishing a better future for the industry and thanking the government for finally passing the new audiovisual law filmmakers had waited 15 years for. The evening took an interesting twist at the end, when Jan Hřebejk, wearing a Karel Schwarzenberg T-shirt, unexpectedly hopped on the stage to praise Burning Bush, the new HBO series directed by Agnieszka Holland, saying "I think we, Czech artists, should advertise this project and bow down before it, since despite the fact that it was only made for television, it's a fantastic thing that surpasses all of us and all of last year's projects."
Hana Gomoláková can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org