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Petr Zelenka • Director of Droneman

“In the Czech Republic, we don't have killers like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver


- We talked to Czech filmmaker Petr Zelenka about Droneman, presented in the main competition of the Warsaw Film Festival

Petr Zelenka • Director of Droneman

In Droneman [+see also:
interview: Petr Zelenka
film profile
, Petr Zelenka, the director of Year of the Devil and Wrong Side Up, turns his attention to terrorism and social justice. At least as it's understood by Pavel (Kryštof Hádek), a man coming back to Prague while planning his own personal vendetta.

Cineuropa: When the film started, it felt like an action spectacle, and we haven't seen anything like that from you before. What made you want to switch things around?
Petr Zelenka: The basic idea was to make a very simple film, unlike my other movies. They were always complicated, films within films or with a very intricate structure. This time, I opted for a very simple narrative: two guys, busy going about their business, and one of them goes a little bit crazy. That's it. Gradually, it evolved during the writing process. I hope there is also some humour in it, some message. Well, the message is also very simple: when you’re pushed to the edge, just grab your weapon and fight. The rest of the world might take you for a crazy person, but you have to do it anyway. When it comes down to very important matters, you have only two options: to stay ignorant or to fight.

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There is a scene where, inside his makeshift home, the main character has all of these photos on the wall, à la A Beautiful Mind. It's easy to dismiss these kinds of people, but you seem to like them.
They are important to keep the balance. Without them, we would all be too correct and boring, and frightened. This character is almost a killer, but he doesn't have the capacity to kill, which is very much like our character as Czechs. We are not killers. But he goes very very far, and I kind of wish he did it. I know it's not humane; it's against the law and everything we have been taught. But we are living in totalitarian times, and we have the right to do extreme things.

This guy is not happy with what he sees. On the local level, it's just cheap populism; on the international level, on the US side, it's a crime. I have chosen to criticise the Americans because they are our allies. I feel so sorry that the Bush administration committed crimes against humanity, but that's a fact. So many innocent people were tortured because of their decisions, and a lot of them ended up in prisons, denied their basic rights, or even killed. They treated people like objects. Hitler tried to do that, too, and after the war, the international court of law decided it was the most profound of all crimes – you can sue for it in any country. It doesn't matter that there were no Czechs in Guantanamo; it doesn't matter that George W Bush is not a Czech citizen. We could still sue Bush in the Czech Republic. At the same time, it's utter science-fiction – it will never happen. And that's exactly what my character is unable to comprehend. He doesn't understand reality, and he doesn't want to compromise. He is partly crazy, living in this crazy world, but at the end of the day, he has a point.

It seems that everyone has forgotten about these events. But not this guy – he doesn't forget.
When you talk to people about Guantanamo, they say: "But it's an old story." Yes, it's an old story, but the prisoners are still there! And it’s been 17 years! This film was difficult to distribute at home, as anything that's even remotely political is regarded with caution in the Czech Republic. People here like simple things. It's different in Poland – you are much more open to political issues or to dealing with the complicated history of your country.

Pavel is very normal for a hero. Is that something you wanted to have? This "Everyman" quality?
In the Czech Republic, we don't have killers like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. We are a nation of ordinary guys. In the script, he is a chemist: he worked for a pharmaceutical company in Israel. He was going to the lab every day, and suddenly, he lost his girlfriend and returned to Prague. He feels like he has to do something.

Speaking of terrorism in the Czech Republic, we don't really have any of these guys with explosives around their chest. But there was a rumour about a terrorist cell, and the police were investigating it. Supposedly, they wanted to blow up a train. But out of the four people in the cell, two were undercover cops. It wasn't possible to distinguish who was planning the explosion! Anyway, the other two still stayed behind bars for over one year. When you say “terrorism”, everybody starts demanding 20 years in jail. But there were Czechoslovak terrorists, sent from England in 1942, and they managed to kill Reinhard Heydrich, a top-ranking German SS official [during Operation Anthropoid]. The Czech Republic was not at war with Germany; we were a “protected territory”, so it was an act of terrorism. Jiří Menzel got an Oscar for his 1966 movie about a young terrorist: Closely Watched Trains. It seems to me that today, we overuse and misuse this word, sometimes forgetting its historical meaning.

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