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IDFA 2021

Helena Třeštíková • Director of René – The Prisoner of Freedom

“The most important moment came when he robbed me; that’s when I decided he was interesting to follow”

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- We talked to the acclaimed Czech helmer, who returns to one of her best-known protagonists in her new movie

Helena Třeštíková • Director of René – The Prisoner of Freedom

Back in 1989, Helena Třeštíková started filming a teenage delinquent. She kept following him for 20 years, ultimately delivering René, which premiered in 2008. Now, she is coming back to the man who – in between multiple incarcerations – has become a local celebrity. We talked to her about the IDFA-screened René - The Prisoner of Freedom [+see also:
interview: Helena Třeštíková
film profile
]
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Cineuropa: When you follow someone with a camera for such a long time, do you think it changes them? It almost feels like he is posing sometimes.
Helena Třeštíková:
Every person reacts to the presence of a camera; it’s just natural. René is a very intelligent man, so he understands what it entails. There was this moment when he started to realise he was becoming a kind of celebrity in the Czech Republic, albeit a weird one. That doesn’t mean that his personality has changed in any way. He has remained open and authentic in the way he presents himself, I think.

I always say that he is one of the smartest people I have ever met, regardless of his problems with the law and his incarcerations. Maybe filming him for such a long time actually helped? He wasn’t committing any crimes, apart from driving without a licence. I think we helped him lead a normal life, in a way. Anyway, I always show the finished film to all of my protagonists before the premiere. They need to accept it first.

It feels like most directors show their films to the people who happen to be in them, but they are not that open to making any significant changes. You show him during the premiere of the first film, being grumpy and loud.
He approved the film. He just asked for a huge shot afterwards [laughs]. I don’t think there has ever been a huge complaint coming from any of my protagonists; we would just alter some little things sometimes. René was getting more and more drunk during that premiere. Then again, he was really enjoying all of the media attention. Beforehand, people talked a lot about the film, and I anticipated that might be the case. He loves being in front of the cameras. But he made sure he was being paid for every single appearance. He is looking forward to the film being shown at this festival in the Czech Republic now because there are many screenings and he can attend in person, make some money and finally fix his teeth.

Thinking about what you said before, about maybe helping him lead a normal life, that’s a huge responsibility – influencing someone’s choices like that.
I liked him a lot, and I wanted him to understand that I appreciated all of the positive steps he was taking in his life. I kept assuring him he was a very important person in my life – after all, we have been in contact for 32 years now. He knows I am here if he needs me. I can help, also financially, although it doesn’t happen that often. It’s more about knowing you have this person by your side, regardless of what happens.

In the film, your voice can be heard only a few times. What kinds of questions were you asking him?
There were moments when I was trying to prompt some self-reflection in him. There have been all these long conversations, and I just like talking to him, I guess. There is no judgement; we can speak openly about everything in our lives. It’s your usual dilemma as a director, whether or not to appear in the film. We decided to keep only three moments when you can hear me, also to show people that I am not just a listener. I am active as well.

As people, we get bored easily. How do you keep it interesting, looking at someone for so many years?
This combination of a smart intellectual and his life experiences is very unique. But the most important moment came when he robbed me. It was very unusual, and that’s when I decided he was a very interesting person to follow. Afterwards, he wrote books that I helped him publish, and our relationship just became stronger. I’ve always wished him the very best ever since we made the first film. I wanted to get him a cake for his 50th birthday, one that would say “Fuck of People” [after his tattoo], written in chocolate. It didn’t happen, and I don’t know if we will continue, but don’t you think it would be interesting?

At this point, why stop?
If my producers are ready, and Czech TV is as well, that would be our next conversation. It’s my life mission to observe my heroes until my death [laughs]. The question is, should we shoot the Czech premiere of this film with René again?

Absolutely. Here’s hoping he will get drunk again.

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