Films: Leaving

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Leaving  {Odcházení}


Czech Republic, 2011, 94 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Drama, Historical/Period, Political, Social Issues
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Language: Czech English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Václav Havel
Producer: Jaroslav Boucek
Editor: Jirí Brozek
Screenwriter: Václav Havel
Cinematographer: Jan Malír
Principal Cast: Josef Abrhám, Dagmar Havlová Veskrnová, Barbara Seidlová, Tatiana Vilhelmová, Oldrich Kaiser

Though this is Václav Havel’s outing as a feature filmmaker, he is of course a celebrated playwright in the Czech Republic, where the stage version of Leaving debuted in 2008. Havel began the story in the 1980s but has been rather busy with other projects in the decades since: the political dissident abandoned his writing to stage the Velvet Revolution, which was responsible for toppling the country’s Communist regime. He then went on to become the Czech Republic’s president, taking office in 1989. (As such, he has also been the subject of two recent documentaries, Citizen Havel and The Power of the Powerless, both of which screened at SDFF32.)

Meet Vilém Rieger, the resigning chancellor of an unnamed country, as he prepares to step down. He must agree to publically support his archrival or relinquish his lavish country villa, which is government property—and which his sleazy successor, Vlastik Klein, plans to turn into a shopping center and brothel. Though filmed in the absurdist style Havel is known for, Leaving nevertheless reveals parallels to Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear, which also portrays an aging leader facing an uncertain future and examines themes of waning power and the difficulty of change—to which Rieger, according to Havel, “responds in the worst way possible.”

Havel rejects claims that there are any autobiographical overtones to his political drama, though similarities are undeniable. Some have made connections between the real name of Havel’s successor, Václav Klaus, and that of Vlastik Klein. Havel’s wife, Dagmar Havlová, plays the girlfriend of a womanizing politico, in a role that Havel says was written for her but isn’t about her. The 74-year-old Havel has kept a low public profile recently but has said of his cinematic debut, “If it is favorably received, I will rejoice that my public career did not culminate by blowing up.”

In cooperation with Bohemian Productions

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