Ondřej Hudeček • Director
by Martin Kudláč
- Cineuropa sat down with emerging Czech filmmaker Ondřej Hudeček to talk about his ambitious feature debut, Bohemian Rhapsody, at the new Czech Film Springboard industry platform
Budding Czech filmmaker Ondřej Hudeček travelled the festival circuit with his short film Peacock (read the news), which was billed as a comedy in three acts, although the director himself calls it a “queer romance”. The short earned itself a series of nominations and accolades, including the Short Film Special Jury Award for Best Direction at Sundance. Peacock revolves around a romance between Czech playwright Ladislav Stroupežnický and poet Jan Aleš, while focusing on Stroupežnický’s early years and his fate as a romantic hero before he became a leading name in critical realism. Hudeček attended the new Czech Film Springboard industry platform (read the report) to present his ambitious feature debut, Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the figure of Ladislav Stroupežnický.
Cineuropa: When did you decide to turn the subject matter into a feature-length project?
Ondřej Hudeček: Basically while working on the script for Peacock. A variety of ideas about how to continue with the character emerged from the research that we did. His life story appeals to me and my co-writer, Jan Smutný, because of what he had gone through, how he was presumably homosexual, and how somebody like him, who hit rock bottom, could rise to the top through hard work and self-motivation, to reach the position of one of the most influential artists of that time. We asked ourselves what a man with such an incredible personal history would do if somebody just came and tried to take everything away from him by revealing his dark past. And then we realised that there was a significant parallel between personal and national self-acceptance. Stroupežnický didn’t want to show his true self – and there is some beautiful symbolism because after his suicide attempt, he had to wear a mask to conceal his disfigured face, and so did the Czech nation. We were undergoing a similar process, trying to conceal our history and simply look better. These were the themes and the possible routes that revealed themselves during the research. I have to say, though, that Bohemian Rhapsody is not a remake of or a sequel to Peacock. The feature-length film is going to be quite different; the story is different, and genre-wise, we have shifted the tone from a queer romance to a paranoid thriller from the 19th century. It’s going to be very dark and thrilling, with black humour.
You have called Bohemian Rhapsody a utopian dream about a dystopian society. Is this the film’s tagline?
Yes, you could say that. In Bohemian Rhapsody, Stroupežnický will be at the peak of his career, trying to build a small, hyperrealistic model of Prague during a jubilee expo event, where the Czech nation, which was under the rule of the Austrian monarchy for more than 300 years, is presenting itself as technologically and culturally competitive in Europe. It’s sort of an idealistic dream of how Prague could look if we could have it all our way. I think it’s a very universal theme, as we all unfortunately tend to live in our own bubbles, refusing to see the broader perspective. It will literally be a city within a city, and the majority of the film will take place in the model, the utopian Prague; and since it is an artificially created city, it does not have to have a realistic look. The whole theatrical stylisation of this world will be openly acknowledged, so it won’t be a case of making a traditional historical film, where you have to display the surrounding scenery realistically. This is something I find fascinating – the digression from realism, working with symbols and theatrical aesthetics. I think this is the key to Bohemian Rhapsody. And not only is it the key to how to tell Stroupežnický’s story, but it is also the key to realising the production. We should have the first draft written by the end of summer 2016, and then we would like to try to get into some script development labs, either at Sundance or Torino. It’s a long road ahead, but we feel like we have discovered the key to telling the story, and that was the most difficult part.
You are also seeking a co-producer, ideally from a German-speaking country.
That’s correct. The story is set in the Czech-German environment, and one of the main characters will be German, so it seems natural to look for German co-producers. We are developing the film with nutprodukce, which is a well-established production company based both in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, so the co-production has emerged naturally there as well. We are currently negotiating with a couple of producers, but it is important for us to find somebody who shares our vision – the deviation from traditional European filmmaking, which strives for realism. We want to take a different route, play with genre and form, and make a contemporary, entertaining piece of cinema that nevertheless still has something to say about the world we live in.