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Recharging batteries

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“Above all, don’t make Czech comedy films,” Laurent Jacob, the initiator and head of the Cannes student section Cinéfondation, told Zuzana Špidlová. The 30-year-old woman has just triumphed over some of the best student films in the world at the most prestigious of festivals. Her Bába really does not even a bit of the kindness and warmth typical of many Czech films, and what Jacob, the respected “father” of the student competition was hinting at.

It’s not without cause that Špidlová is looking for inspiration from foreign directors. In Cannes, she got to meet her idols, the Dardenn brothers. And Bába has a lot in common with these Belgian sociocritical moralists from the periphery, because it addresses a serious social topic: care for chronically ill people. Through the main character’s ethically dubious behaviour, Špidlová asks viewers what would they do in a difficult situation. The raw story of an immature granddaughter, who is not mentally capable of taking care for her infirm grandma, was described in France as “intensive” and “mature”. 

After all, Špidlová, in her fourth year of studies at the film academy FAMU, isn’t any fussy teenage student. She started to study directing when she was 26. She was finishing her law studies at the same time, but never dreamt of a career as a lawyer. The Karlovy Vary native, who says that no one in her family has ever had a camera or a camcorder, wanted to tell stories. During entrance exams, she convinced the jury of her potential in an adaptation of Hemingway’s short story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.

When producing her bachelor’s film, she did field research and went to a hospital to tune in to the feelings of old people confined to beds. “We didn’t want to produce a cautious film. We took the risk of not making it to the master’s cycle. And it paid off,” Špidlová said, adding that she was surprised by the spontaneous and emotional reactions that her film has provoked. She was pleased for instance with the recognition that came from Jiřina Šiklová, who actively concerns herself with the issues of old age, and who, as jury chairwoman, participated in the decision to declare Bába the best film at last year’s Famufest. 

The success in Cannes was preceded by hard work. After working for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Špidlová knows what it takes to take part in such events. Thinking up leaflets, writing press releases and searching for sponsors to cover travel and other costs would be impossible without the help of colleagues and friends. Her faculty offered minimum assistance. It underestimates the value of promoting itself at the world’s most prestigious festival. Špidlová could only dream of the background other schools provided to her colleagues in the competition. 

Because of the relaxed atmosphere among young filmmakers within the Cinéfondation section one of the Italians aptly remarked that it felt like being in Erasmus. Špidlová herself can judge that. She had previously spent time in France as an exchange student, travels to Paris on a regular basis to “recharge her batteries” and plans to set the story of her next film in the country. She doesn’t want to reveal the plot, except that it will be a psychological chamber drama again. “I still have to choose between two themes, but I want to work on the French one first”, she said. The reason is that she wants to cast the star of Bába, Marika Šoposká. And, she says, if she hesitates, the talented 19-year-old actress could grow out of the role.

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