Robert Kirchhoff • Director of All Men Become Brothers
“Alexander Dubček rightly fits into the pantheon of the 1960s, alongside Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe and Willy Brandt”
- The Slovak documentarian breaks down his upcoming, unconventional biopic of Alexander Dubček, “the icon of socialism with a human face”
Slovak director-producer Robert Kirchhoff is currently finishing his latest project, All Men Become Brothers, which was presented at the 2021 East Doc Platform (see the report). He chatted to Cineuropa to reveal more about this unconventional portrait of Alexander Dubček.
Cineuropa: All Men Become Brothers tackles opinions on the “icon of socialism with a human face”, Alexander Dubček, similarly to the subject of your previous work Normalization [+see also:
film profile]. Is this one of the reasons why you decided to dedicate a full-length project to this key Czechoslovak personality?
Robert Kirchhoff: I believe both films have different stances and genres. Normalization operates using factuality and the methods of investigative film, even bordering on film noir. Alexander Dubček comes to life as different movements, parties and lines of thought appropriate and interpret him. This is the magic of demystification, and that's what both films have in common.
You have shot in Italy, France, the USA and Russia, implying a broad geographical scope. How did this happen?
The geographical and chronological framework is Dubček’s life. We are walking in his footsteps. His father, a utopian, emigrated to the USA before World War I; Dubček grew up in Kyrgyzstan and studied in Russia, and he was an ambassador in Ankara. He had plenty of opportunities to explore the reality of the world. They believed in a righteous social system – socialism, as an intermediate stage to prosperity and an absolute society. Dubček believed in this until his death. After all, his career spans almost the entire 20th century.
You have described the project as “the first complex film about Alexander Dubček”, while your Czech co-producer called it “a free portrait and a free interpretation of Dubček’s ideas”. Can you elaborate on the form?
Thanks to his authenticity, Dubček rightly fits into the pantheon of the 1960s, alongside Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, Willy Brandt and others. Internally, I steered clear of the genre of the portrait or classic period biopic. I did a lot of work to find places and meet characters who could, and would, talk about the various periods of Dubček’s life. So the film consists of chapters, which together complete the jigsaw puzzle of Dubček’s face.
The co-producer has said that the movie opens with Dubček’s death and will unfold in reverse, heading into the past. Can you elaborate on this?
This is still a subject for reflection and discussion. The truth is that I am more interested in Dubček’s political life than his private life, and even how they related to each other. We have identified the most important events, witnesses and figures, situations that freely lead us through Dubček’s life, up until his car accident on the day of the acceptance of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, just before the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. Dubček’s supporters and political romantics made him out to be the greatest Slovak – I have to take that into account. It could be said that my method, revolving around situational poetry, is not a far cry from a period-grotesque style. I’d say we are closest to that. We laugh and suffer at the same time. The worlds of the utopians and the dogmatists merge to create Dubček the way he was and the way he is.
You have mentioned that previously unseen footage may appear in the film.
This movie was supposed to be finished a year ago, but circumstances put a stop to that. I spent that time searching, looking through archives, and I have not quite finished that yet. So we have a fairly extensive gauge of various kinds of archives, from written to audiovisual ones. These include records that have not yet been published. Our professional collaborators – historians, who themselves consider this topic to be useful – also have to be credited for such extensive research.
Czech filmmaker Karel Vachek, who died in December, appears in the film. Why did you choose him, and who else will be in it?
Karel Vachek, together with many others from his generation, was an admirer of Dubček. He mentioned him in almost every film. For him, Dubček symbolised the political ideal, and utter social and artistic freedom, which occurred, albeit briefly but unforgettably, in 1968. However, the consequences were terrible. It is similar to Bohumil Hrabal, Heinz Fischer, Romano Prodi, Umberto Eco or Mikhail Gorbachev. Dubček influenced these people with his very being. He embodied “authentic humanity”, a certain ideal of purity.
Your movie also has a metatextual level, with behind-the-scenes footage from a miniseries about Dubček in the making. Why did you decide to incorporate this film-within-a-film dimension?
Producer Andrej Antonio Leca has been preparing a project called Human Face for years. It is indeed an extremely ambitious movie or miniseries. Dubček fascinated him so much that he has been trying to create an international co-production project with a stellar cast, directed by the legendary Lordan Zafranovic. It started to interest me as a possible motive for my film. The layering of different subgenres brings me a kind of joy and freedom, as it opens up the form. This is a strange case of a paradox, where the character of Alexander Dubček appears in various places as an object of both worship and damnation.
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