Ready for an Adverse Reaction

Václav Havel prepares for the release of Leaving, his belated debut as film director

Former President Václav Havel has turned his dream of making a movie into reality. At the age of 74, he has filmed an adaptation of his latest play, Odcházení (Leaving), which will premiere on March 24. Here he discusses his motives for undertaking this film-making adventure...

How did you like being a director?

It was an interesting, eye-opening and utterly entertaining adventure. The film is finished, there is only one thing left: I hope people will go to see it, and will like it. I also hope to be confronted by the audience and by film critics. It was worth it but, I must say, I have no intention of doing it again.

When did the idea of turning Leaving into a film first arise?

Shortly after the play was premiered at Divadlo Archa [in Prague], filmmaker Jaroslav Vrabec came up with this idea. I agreed but I hadn't given it proper thought. He took it very seriously, though, so we began to work on a script. Soon I realized his method of writing a script is so different [from mine] and it didn't go with the play very well. So we dropped the idea in a friendly and peaceful way. Later, I talked to another filmmaker -- Jan Němec -- who agreed to do it with me. But we found out that we would've fallen out in a couple of days. So in the end I decided to make my first and last film myself.

At the Film Critic Awards you joked that you have to please your critics. Do you take their reviews seriously?

No author is happy when his or her work is condemned. My filmmaker friends are telling me not to read reviews, no matter what they're like. All filmmakers say they don't read reviews but then you hear them quoting them… I will read them with keen interest.

What would you say to people to encourage them to go see the film?

I hope they won't find it boring. My ambition wasn't to make a film either for exclusively art house-going fans or for so-called common people, for ordinary men and women. I wanted to film something people will think at least a bit about after they leave the cinema, something that will move them. They can just sit, watch the film and pay attention, because the topics are variously piled up, all intertwining and connecting. But I am the last one who should judge it and recommend it to others.

In what way do you think the fact you are a world-renowned celebrity will influence the perception of the film?

I am an odd case. There are probably few people in the world that were the last president of one state, the first president of another and make their debut at 74 years of age. That can cause a stir and attract more attention; it can also cause an adverse reaction. That could all happen and I am ready to face it.

You've seen a number of interpretations of your plays around the world. How often did you find something that you didn't intend to have in the text?

Plenty of times. Theatre is a living art, which creates its own sense in a certain moment, in a certain social environment and in certain relations. When I saw my play Vyrozumění (The Memorandum) in the Philippines, people laughed at times when I wouldn't expect them to laugh, which was quite confusing for me. Later they explained to me that native dialects are being overrun by English, so they interpreted the artificial language in the play, ptydepe, as the English language. In Los Angeles, they saw a trade union and its leaders in the play, which was beyond my understanding as well. But playwrights are amused by this kind of interpretation. It is one of the charming things about a play, which I perceive as an unfinished product.

What about opposite examples? Was there ever a time that you didn't recognize your play at all?

Yes, sometimes I do encounter an absolute misunderstanding of my texts, which results in insensitive cuts in the texts. My plays have a special construction and architecture and each interference in the text may cause abstruseness. Because of that, critics may say the play is bad. At first, it could make me angry but I got used to it in the course of time.

Is it true you plan to write another play?

It is only "embryonic" and it would be a mistake to talk about something that may yet change a hundred times.

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