He wanted to revive Czechoslovak society from the surrendered lethargy it began to fall into after the Soviet occupation, and he burned himself. But who he himself was remains a mystery. The story of Jan Palach from director Robert Sedláček is based on the screenplay of eighty-eight-year-old writer, screenwriter and Charta 77 spokeswoman Eva Kantůrková.
Jan Palach, a student who burned himself in 1969 to protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. This sacrifice was intended to wake a nation from occupational lethargy. Police and medical reports surrounding Palach's death, memories of his closest relatives, family or historians; writing the script was not easy.
What was the journey of a loving son, a devoted friend and a thoughtful student of philosophy before he decided to burn himself to death? The film, which premiered on August 21st, has already been seen by 14,000 spectators.
The screenwriter herself admitted that creating the story of Jan Palach posed two risks. "First of all, he died very young and, unlike in the case of Jan Hus, we had to go after every event, even the slightest detail, to make the story a complete, comprehensible and impressive one. Secondly, Palach's sovereign act was stunning in the unprecedented atmosphere of that time, and it is more difficult to imagine in today's time and social distance," she admitted, saying she always consulted everything with Sedláček.
The main character is played by young actor Viktor Zavadil. "I accepted this role with a feeling of great responsibility that is connected with the retelling of such a story. For me, Jan Palach is like a legend, that is, something I did not experience but have often heard about, read about and learned about. And given the development of our republic, I think it is a fundamental legend. Hence the responsibility. With that, of course, came worries about the technical aspect of film acting, whether I can transfer the character credibly onscreen without much experience," the actor admitted.
His mother in the film is actress Zuzana Bydžovská, who recalls the weather from shooting. "It was terribly cold. We were shooting summer scenes, but it was freezing, and even the scenes at the station were shot in such cold weather that it was barely possible to heat the station inside. And I hate the cold. Otherwise, I'm glad I met Robert, whom I had not known personally before. I think he is very courageous to have taken on this topic. It is important that Jan Palach's family, his brother and his loved ones know that we all tried hard to create a faithful, non-impassioned rendition of Jan's fate," she said.
Thanks to the exciting story and a good selection of actors, Sedláček was able to draw the viewer in in an instant. Viktor Zavadil is undoubtedly believable as Jan Palach. The film that captures the last year and a half of Jan Palach's symbolically entered cinemas on the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia.
Cineart TV Prague, Czech Television, Arina, Radio and Television of Slovakia, Up&Up production CZ/Slovakia, 2018, 124 min
Director: Robert Sedláček, Screenplay: Eva Kantůrková, Camera: Jan Šuster, Music: Michal Rataj
Cast: Viktor Zavadil, Zuzana Bydžovská, Denisa Barešová, Kristina Kanátová, Michal Balcar, Karel Jirák, Jan Vondráček. The film was created thanks to the support of the State Fund for Cinematography, the Audiovisual Fund, the Prague Film Fund and the Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic.