Citizen Havel



Crossing Europe Film Festival, Linz, Austria.

LINZ, Austria -- An absorbing fly-on-the-wall record of an unusual head of state, "Citizen Havel" ("Obcˇan Havel") works as a heartfelt, affectionate tribute that also allows us to see the flaws and foibles of Vaclav Havel. A cinch for festival exposure, this crowd-pleasing film appeals as a likely candidate for arthouse distribution -- not least because of the array of famous faces on view, including Bill Clinton, the Rolling Stones and both Presidents Bush.

Director Pavel Koutecky´ clearly enjoyed remarkable access to Havel throughout his two terms as the Czech Republic's President (1993-2001). Following Koutecky´'s accidental death in 2006, the film was completed by his collaborator Miroslav Janek. The camera is present before, during and after numerous events of state, observing Havel as he frets over matters major and triflingly minor. On this evidence, there's precious little difference between Havel the public figure and Havel the private individual: Genially down-to-earth, he makes good company over a two-hour running-time which, partly thanks to Tonicˇka Jankova's editing, flies breezily by.

There is one particularly jarring cut: As we're giggling at the Stones' antics as they're shown round the presidential quarters, we're confronted with the sudden death of Havel's beloved spouse, Olga. This is one of few misjudgments in a movie which otherwise proceeds smoothly along its straight chronological path as interpolated TV-news bulletins provide handy regular datelines.

Viewers glean details of Havel's past -- one of Czechoslovakia's leading playwrights, this vocal critic of the country's pro-Soviet regime spent five years in prison -- without need for narration or expository titles. On the basis of this enjoyable, engaging, often very funny documentary, citizens of other nations, regardless of their political stripe, may reckon the Czechs were lucky to have had Citizen Havel in charge at such a pivotal period in their stormy history.

Production company: AFIS - Association of Film & Sociology.
Directors: Pavel Koutecky´, Miroslav Janek.
Producer: Jarmila Polakova.
Executive Producer: Jan Krasa.
Co-producers: David Dusˇek, Pavel Strnad, Michael Wolkowitz.
Director of photography: Stano Slusˇny´.
Editor: Tonicˇka Jankova.
Sales: Deckert Distribution GmbH, Leipzig.
No rating, 120 minutes.