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A movie about Havel, the spoiler of beer

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The new “action film about the love of beer”, Občan Havel přikuluje, features rewarding moments of story telling, humour, sparkling tough-guy conversation, as well as moments that make you shiver. The film talks about the making of the famous play Audience, about the absurdity of the normalization period in Czechoslovakia, and it also reveals that beer from the “brewery” cellar tastes best.

The title of the film by exile writer, playwright and documentary filmmaker Jan Novák and his son Adam (cameraman and sound editor) does not refer – as it could seem – to the Citizen Havel documentary (2008). It refers to the 2005 film by the same directors, Občan Václav Havel jede na dovolenou (Citizen Václav Havel Goes on Vacation), a reconstruction of one holiday trip of the closely watched dissident, which in the mid 1980s resulted in remarkable police actions.

Labourer’s Mercedes
The new film goes back to the mid 1970s when Havel worked for several months as a brewery assistant in Trutnov. Trying to avoid accusations of parasitism, for a monthly wage of CZK 1,700, he rolled heavy beer barrels and later operated the filter machine. That’s where he became, as he calls it, “the spoiler” of fresh beer containing the remnants of the fermentation.

The film features the cellarman, the malt expert and other brewery’s employees of that time, recalling some absurd situations (Havel was banned from parking his Mercedes on the brewery grounds to not provoke the working class) caused by Havel’s presence at the brewery, as well as the period of voluntary spying. Also the film contains memoirs of “the most convincing observer”, former boxer Arnošt Šarkózy, who died last year and whose name – slightly changed – also appears in Audience, an absurd one-act play that captures the vulgar and drunk brewmaster, trying to persuade the author and dissident Vaňek, his employee, to spy on himself.

In a different part of the film, actors Pavel Landovský and Jan Hartl, songwriter Vladimír Merta and publisher Vladimír Pistorius, talk about “the adventurous” circumstances, which accompanied the underground recording of Audience, based on Havel’s experience as a brewery assistant. The film features the most famous version of Audience, recorded by the author himself and actor Pavel Landovský, as well as several other recordings of the play, including the “jazz” adaptation, which was broadcasted on television in West Germany.

This version of the play is associated with another humorous story, which gives a good example of the bizarre period of normalization. Worried she would have to deny friendship with Havel on public television broadcast, as she also appeared in the play, famous actress Jiřina Bohdalová asked her doctor friend to cut her lip causing her cheek to swell.

More disturbing part of the documentary, which is a mosaic of period photographs, archive film shots and “totalitarian folklore” songs, contains dissidents’ memories of police questioning. They are humorous although containing some tragic moments (after beating up the underground poet Ivan Jirous at a police station, the two officers, worried their boss would find out, offered Jirous a “friendly” shot).

Not me, I’m just estébé
The filmmakers also delivered recordings of several former StB communist police officers from Trutnov, mostly without them knowing. They don’t seem to feel guilty and pretend as if nothing bad happened. They reject spying on Havel, they say they did not know him and describe their cooperation with the secret police as if it was a well-paid job just like any other. The most tragic of all characters in the movie are the personified reflections of the normalized society and devastated citizens’ mentality, which Havel captured in Audience so well.

Občan Havel přikuluje. ČR 2009. Director: Jan and Adam Novák. Distribution: Hollywood Classic Entertainment. Premiere 14 May.

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