TO MAKE A COMEDY IS NO FUN
2016, Documentary, 80'
Script/Director: Robert Kolinsky
Catpics AG, Alfi Sinniger
In coproduction with:
Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen/Switzerland & Czech TV/Czech Republic.
Jiří Menzel’s passion is theatre - his career in film took place rather coincidentally. Despite this, the 77-year-old Czech can count Miloš Forman, Vera Chytilova, Ken Loach, Emir Kusturica and Istvan Szabo, among others, to his fans and friends. István Szabo even refers to himself as the biggest Menzel fan ever.
For the first time, TO MAKE A COMEDY IS NO FUN tells the story of this exceptional filmmaker.
In 1968, the Czech filmmaker wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film with Closely Watched Trains(in UK: Closely Observed Trains), at only 28 years of age. He is, however, not impressed by Hollywood. The Czech sweats blood when he is introduced to a self-centred Hitchcock at a party in Los Angeles and has to hide the fact that he was only able to see one of his films behind the Iron Curtain. He also experienced the Academy Awards ceremony rather as a real-life satire than as a glittering celebration.
As the offer comes - from an agent he was put in contact with by Roman Polanski - to move from Prague to L.A. for two years in order to learn English and to look for suitable film ideas, he turns it down. Young Menzel resists the American Dream which is basically handed to him on a silver platter and, instead, prefers to return to communist Czechoslovakia where he hangs his Academy Award diploma on the bathroom wall. It is not political conviction that leads him to this decision but a human one. He feels obliged to his compatriots.
Back in Prague, he struggles hard for a living and against political censorship. He keeps his head above water with occasional acting jobs offered to him by colleagues from abroad (e.g. Costa-Gavras). His first film after the Oscar award, Larks on a String, is forbidden in 1969 and banned to the state vault. It takes 21 years until the film can premier internationally at the Berlinale in 1990 - and promptly wins the Golden Bear.
In the years between the suppression of the Prague Spring and the so-called Velvet Revolution at the end of the 80‘s, Jiří Menzel has to learn to adjust to the loathed regime. Despite the employment ban from Barrandov, the government-run film studios in Prague, he remains employed: he has to read books and explain in writing why they are not suitable to be made into films. Menzel takes the setback with humour.
He succeeds in returning with a proletarian film. His follow-up projects are a great success with the Czechoslovakian audience and bust the budget of the party leadership - they are too successful to be rewarded! Seclusion Near a Forest and Cutting It Short are two of these box-office hits from the 70’s. These popular genres are comedies that celebrate the withdrawal into private life and costume dramas that honour Czech traditions such as brewery and pork dishes - but expose Menzel to criticism from his colleagues. The Czech director and screenplay writer Vera Chytilová doubts the artistic value and universal significance of these works. On the contrary, Miloš Forman spots a typical Czech survival strategy: facing sorrow with humour and beer! Jiří Menzel himself considers his mission in his home country fulfilled: “I tell myself that they are laughing. Therefore I have done something for their health.”And he manages to hide his political messages in a way that the regime does not perceive them.