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“A profound study of the reality and the people”

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Petr Václav • Director


- CANNES 2014: Cineuropa met up with Czech director Petr Václav to talk about his film The Way Out, screening at Cannes this year in the ACID programme

Petr Václav  • Director

Petr Václav studied documentary filmmaking at Prague’s FAMU. He demonstrated his talent during his student years with documentaries such as The Face of Žižkov and the award-winning Madame Le Murie. His ongoing collaboration with cinematographer Štěpán Kučera began early on, during his studies. Václav made a number of documentaries before moving to feature film in 1996 with his award-festooned debut Marian, a black-and-white psychological drama that revolves around a little Roma boy, Marian, who ends up in a foster home that lacks both hygiene and the human touch. Parallel Worlds, a psychological study of a young couple searching for meaning in life, was his next feature project, starring Karel Roden and co-penned by French writer and journalist Maria Desplechin (with whom he also collaborated on the project Suivre sa princesse). In 2003, Václav moved to France, where he has been making several documentaries (for example, Un automne evenk, Bienvenue chez Gabriela, Tous européens! and Katerina). The Way Out [+see also:
film review
interview: Petr Václav
film profile
is his first Czech film in 13 years, in which he returns to a theme originally explored in his feature debut.

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Cineuropa: The Way Out is your first Czech film since Parallel Worlds. Was it hard to come back to work in the Czech environment?
Petr Václav: Well, it was strange at the beginning because for many years it wasn’t my plan to go to my home country or to shoot a film there. Also, I was disappointed at the beginning of the editing of the script, because I had not written in the Czech language for years and I was not used to the Czech keyboard.

Why did you choose to revisit the topic you had tackled in your debut feature, Marian?
In 1993, when I was starting to write the script for Marian, I wanted to show what was happening to the Roma during the communist regime. In the 1990s, we were hoping that things had changed and that the situation would improve for the Roma. Twenty years later, I want to recount what has happened since then: the situation has not improved at all. The nature of the difficulties has changed, but they did not disappear. The situation is now somehow even worse.

Is the film based on an actual story, or is it the result of several destinies interweaved into a coherent plot?
The film is based on a profound study of the reality and the people. There was a written script.

Was the whole plot scripted, or did you also leave room for improvisation? To put it another way, did you use a documentary, observational style to capture the essence and particularities of Roma culture?
The script was very precise. My non-professional actors were also very well prepared. Some scenes were improvised, but not many and not too much.

The Roma question is still a sensitive issue, but you have managed to deliver a sober picture of their current situation. How did you prepare for such a project and topic?
I came to the Czech Republic for two months and spent time with different people all around the country. Once the script was finished, I started to search for my actors. Casting took six months, and I saw around 3,000 people. I spoke to them and listened to them. It was a very enriching experience that was integrated into the script.

Part of the authentic feel also comes down to the non-professional actors. How different was it to direct them in comparison with professionals in this particular case? 
I would say that working with non-professional actors is not that different. Klaudia Dudova has a phenomenal memory – she knew the script perfectly. She worked like a star actress, really. She didn’t know it, but she was already an actress. Then, the other people (the postwoman, the social workers, etc) were mostly doing things for the camera that they do in their real life; shooting with them wasn’t really different from a style you use when you shoot with professionals.   

The locations were spot-on. Did you do a lot of location scouting to find the right ones?
No, there were many good places. But we had to change them sometimes because some spots were ruined over a very short time between the preparation and the shooting.

The Way Out is a very accurate and exhaustive portrayal of Roma life. Do you think you will return to the Roma topic again in the near future?
I don't know… On one hand, I know so much about the topic that I could easily write another script about the Roma. Also, I would like to do another film with the same cast. It was so difficult to find them, so why stop making films with them?! On the other hand, I have three other projects on the go in France, where I live, and I have a project in Italy set in the 18th century… If a day had 72 hours and a year 24 months, I wouldn’t hesitate.

What projects are you developing or preparing next, and will there be any projects developed in the Czech Republic?
This summer, I am supposed to be shooting another film in the Czech Republic. I wrote it a long time ago, before I moved to France. I have never had the opportunity to fund it, but it now seems possible, so I have to finish this project.

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