Vol 0, No 12
14 December 1998
K I N O E Y E:|
Slovakia Discovered (Part IV)
Martin Sulik's Vsetko, co mam rad
Andrew James Horton
Slovakia is not a prolific country in terms of film production, with only two or three films being made there each year. Inspite of this, it doesn't seem to be wanting for film success. One of the Slovak directors to have been internationally acknowledged in recent years is Martin Sulik, who was represented by two films at the recent Slovakia Discovered cultural festival in London. The second of these to be shown, Vsetko, co mam rad (Everything I Like, 1992), was nominated for an Oscar and has picked up five international awards.
The seed for Vsetko, co mam rad emerged from Sulik's previous film Neha (Tenderness,1991). The crew had wanted to start on a project that moved away from the melancholy character that had haunted Neha. To start the process they made a list of everything they liked and this list became the basis of the film, with each item on the list becoming a short chapter of the film. Some of these are nothing more than vignettes, skits, or examples of masterly cinematic painting: for example "Sunrise," "Landscape with Balloon" or "Attempt to Photograph the Occupants of a House." Others are more involved.
Slovakia's best in one film
The list as well as functioning as a list for Sulik's team, could be seen as a list for any Slovak, with many items on the list being specifically Slovak. This means that the references to Slovak literature and culture abound, notably in the chapter "Pictures of the Old World," a homage to Dusan Hanak's classic film (see The New Presence, September 1998). The Slovak writer Rudulf Sloboda, who committed suicide shortly after the film was made, and the Oscar-winning Czech director Jiri Menzel also have minor roles, the former more or less as himself and the latter as a nerdy and jealous lover.
For all these short episodes though, Vsetko, co mam rad, is not a choppy or incoherent film. It has a beautiful fluidity and with a lilting comic touch Sulik builds up a definite story from the disparate items on the list. The hero of this tale is Tomas, a man caught in four difficult and strained relationships with four very different people: his cerebral but sensual English girlfriend Ann who wants him to move with her to England; his passionate ex-wife Magda who still resents their break-up, and both his father and his son, who are embarrassed by him.
All four despair at his easy-going approach to life and his unwillingness to turn to anything concrete. Many of the scenarios in the film derive their realism from being adapted by real-life incidents witnessed by the production crew. The scene in which Magda beats Ann with her belt out of jealousy, for instance, was inspired by an incident enacted by two Slovak actresses in a dubbing studio.
Despite the "Slovakness" of the list and indeed the film, Sulik does not consider the film to have even a gentle nationalism to it, and seemed slightly taken aback by the idea that someone might think it did. At a post-screening discussion he explained that "a culture only starts to make sense when it enters into a dialogue with another culture." Sulik was specifically interested in the not uncommon situation of English teachers who came to Slovakia after the revolution and formed relationships with Slovaks. "Some of them stayed, but many of them left," he explained.
For English audiences, Ann might seem a rather shallow character. With her stunning looks, expensive clothes and painfully slow pronunciation of English in a clear BBC accent, she is not so much an English teacher but a caricature of one as seen through Slovak eyes. If she seems out of place in the film then this is intentional and reflects her attitude to Slovakia, which she adores but can't feel at home in.
This, indeed, is how many Slovaks have felt about their homeland, including Tomas. At the beginning of the film, Tomas pursues her with such lust and violence that we assume he is going to rape her. As he chases her around the flat he screams in English "I am a Slovak," before adding quietly in Slovak, "unfortunately." As the film develops, Tomas slowly becomes reconciled to his national identity, aided by the whistle-stop tour of everything Sulik and his team likes.
In counterpoint to this struggle with feelings of attachment and detachment which Tomas feels about his homeland, runs the theme of father/son relationships, which is visible in Sulik's other film shown at Slovakia Discovered, Zahrada (1995) (see CER Vol 0 No 9). Sulik's casting of his own father in the role of Tomas's father gives all the more edge to the film.
The director admitted that the role was very much based on how he saw his father as a real person, although he was quick to point out that, unlike in the film, he had never caught his father with a Romanian prostitute in his hotel room. In the end, it is the father/son bond that decides the course of the film's plot, since, when he is told by Magda that his son admires him and needs him, Tomas is persuaded to leave Ann and stay in Slovakia. Ultimately, for all the misgivings he has about the country, Slovakia is one of the things Tomas likes.
Andrew James Horton, 14 December 1998
If you want more in English, there's little other than plot descriptions and credits. However, if that's all you're after, then Artfilm does the job nicely.
For something really slick, then you have to turn to Slovak. Kan Kan is one of the glossiest magazines to be printed in Slovakia and its mixture of fashion and contemporary culture, enlivened by high-class photography and layout, makes it essential reading. Unfortunately, the design loses something in the web version, but their interview with Sulik, done just after his 1997 film Orbis Pictus, still puts the official Slovak sites to shame in terms of both content and visuals.
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