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Tomáš Klein • Director

"It is a testament to one of the most talented directors we've ever had"


- Tomáš Klein reveals the process of shooting legendary Czech director Jan Němec's last film, The Wolf from Royal Vineyard Street, to Cineuropa at this year's KVIFF

Tomáš Klein  • Director
Tomáš Klein (left) with the late Jan Němec

When filmmaker Jan Němec passed away during the shoot of his last film, The Wolf from Royal Vineyard Street [+see also:
film review
interview: Tomáš Klein
film profile
, Tomáš Klein, the young assistant director, was left with the task of finishing the movie, which was selected in competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Klein, currently in his last year at FAMU, has shot several student films, and his bachelor's movie, Retriever, which he made with Tomáš Merta, earned international acclaim when it was picked for Cannes’ Cinéfondation. Klein is currently preparing his graduate film, Where Is My Home, with Merta. Cineuropa talked to this emerging talent to discuss the circumstances surrounding Němec’s last film.

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Cineuropa: Where were you in the production process when Jan Němec surprisingly passed away? Why did you decide to carry on with the project and not leave it to become the stuff of legends?
Tomáš Klein
: We still had one day of shooting and a couple of retakes to go. Němec followed through with the majority of the scenes to the rough cut and left us the order of scenes. We kept it virtually intact. Němec said right at the beginning that when he decides to shoot a film, he has to finish it. And that happened. I am personally convinced that finishing the movie was the right decision, leading to a film that could refresh the stale waters of Czech cinema, and moreover, it is a testament to one of the most talented directors we've ever had. But that’s for the audience to judge.

You commented that the shooting was carried out in a spirit of subversiveness. What does that mean?
I think it was a conscious directing method. He had a clear story – a clear emotion he wanted to tell. However, the story was shot in locations where they would not let you shoot a normal film, even for ten times the budget. Many directors would consider that an obstacle, but it excited Němec. When you cannot stick to the classical narrative practices and the knowledge of the craft, you are cleverer, and you find a new way to narrate a film more easily. To do this, you also need lots of experience and courage. Němec had both, and that is what impressed me.   

Alejandro Jodorowsky shot a fabricated autobiography to right past wrongs. What is the intention behind The Wolf from Royal Vineyard Street?
I think this is another case of righting past wrongs, but not in the sense of sentimental whining. Němec had a big ego and knew how to beautifully dissolve into self-irony. When the world acknowledges your talent, as happened to him in the 1960s, and you cannot freely practise it for a large part of your career due to fate, it has to traumatise you. Nevertheless, Jan Němec always managed to stick to his talent, in spite of any hindrance.

How did the shooting go?
The main method was to throw everybody into the deep end. The story and its scenes were clear; that did not change. However, nobody was walking around carrying the script. Němec had bullet-points and the most necessary director’s notes, although they were more for production – the who, what and where. When the need to write dialogue arose, as in the interrogation scene, he dictated it to me so that the actors could learn their lines. Otherwise, nobody was supposed to know too much.

Jan Němec is considered a Czech film innovator. Did this side of his play a role in his latest project?
Absolutely! It is related to the desire to find new ways to surprise the audience. It applies mostly to the form and the method of shooting. On the other hand, regarding the contents of the story, he was much more careful. He always wanted to make sure that the audience would understand the story he had to tell. You can look at his use of drones in interior scenes as an example of his willingness for formal experimentation. Němec was thrilled about all the new technologies. Personally, I was a bit tired of the over-use of drones, but Němec had the courage to use them differently. It expresses a subjective perspective, rather than an objective one. Honestly, I do not know another film where I would see something similar.

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