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BLACK NIGHTS 2022 Critics' Picks

Mariana Čengel Solčanská and Hana Lasicová • Director and screenwriter of The Chambermaid

"Historical facts are all written by men, women are nonexistent in those history books"


- We met the filmmakers after the premiere of their first joint work to learn about their inspiration for the story

Mariana Čengel Solčanská and Hana Lasicová • Director and screenwriter of The Chambermaid

In the Critics' Pick section of this year's Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival has been presented The Chambermaid [+see also:
film review
interview: Mariana Čengel Solčanská an…
film profile
, directed by Mariana Čengel-Solčanská and written by Hana Lasicová. We talked to the director and and the scriptwriter of this predominantly female crew film about their historical research and the messages the film bears for a contemporary audience.

Cineuropa: How did you start working on this story?
Mariana Čengel Solčanská: We started nine years ago, when we met for the first time. I read Hana's book and thought it was a very nice story of a young girl in a strange world.

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Have you been inspired by real people while writing it?
Hana Lasicová: It is based on the story of my mother’s nanny. She was born at the end of the 19th century and lived 90 years. She never married, and she really took care of the child of her master's family. Due to her long life, she also witnessed the important historical changes of her country.

Did you have access to historical documents that inspired you?
HL: I did a lot of research for the book about the daily life of maids at the time. A maid, any female actually, but especially a maid, was in a very submissive position. But still, I realised that in the end, all these women that were very low, still have a lot of strength, even though they go through a lot. Many of them were taken advantage of sexually. On the other hand, for a lot of them, it was also impossible to get their physical needs satisfied with men as they wished, so I came to the conclusion that it must have be possible to engage with other females. 

How much do you relate to the character of Anka?
MČS: Anka is an unloved child, a so-called bastard, a chid without a father. My story is the same, my mother was in the same situation as Anka, she didn't know who my father was either. My grandmother called me a bastard, too. I grew up thinking my mother was a whore. But after having my own child, I realised how brave my mother had been to have me on her own.

In the film, you don't talk about the background of Anka's mother. You don't say why Anka ended up without a father.
MČS: Because it wasn't important for her. It's just some man. Moreover, the other characters of the film go through different experiences that lead them to this same situation. They are several examples of it.

HL: In this female world, it's not important who the father is. And for the Little Miss, we know who her parents are, but still the true parent is Anka, because she loves her. It's not about blood but about feelings.

Did you make changes while adapting the story from the novel to the film?
HL: We didn't change the message and we kept all the characters. But we had a twist in the book, that Anka would meet a man and have a love story with him. For the film we decided to keep the focus on the women. We didn't want to make a film about queer or lesbian topics, but simply about love. The sex of the characters is not important.

Why was it important for you to set the story in the past? 
MČS: It's the time when the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy broke up and Czechoslovakia was born. While the relationships in the house break up, the region breaks up into different countries. There is a mirror between the relationships and the historical events. In that, there is a message for today. We are not united in Europe, one state attacks another. The monarchy was an example of unity, where five languages were used and spoken. Another thing is that historical facts are all written by men, women are nonexistent in those history books. Their lives are focused on the house and society. And actually, they were the ones who were keeping it all going, bearing children, cooking, providing life.

Was it difficult to shoot a historical film in Prague?
HL: Since we had a very small budget, because it was difficult to convince the funding institutions which are usually controlled by men, we had to improvise in many ways. We were lucky that we shot during Covid and there were no people in the streets. As for the interior scenes, we shot in a small castle which already had some old furniture and servant quarters and the authentic look from the time.

How did you find your main actress who plays Anka?
MČS: I knew Dana Droppová from a previous film and I was sure I wanted her also for The Chambermaid. She has the looks for the role. All the girls today are very slim, but Anka had to be a strong girl.

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