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Jiří Vejdělek: I like to get my characters in trouble

Czech director Jiří Vejdělek is betting ‘Men in Hope,’ the sequel to last year’s hit chick flick ‘Women in Temptation,’ will win over ‘all genders’

Director Jiří Vejdělek (left) with actors Vica Kerekes, Petra Hřebíčková and Jiří Macháček at the opening of ‘Men in Hope’ | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Director Jiří Vejdělek (left) with actors Vica Kerekes, Petra Hřebíčková and Jiří Macháček at the opening of ‘Men in Hope’ | foto: ČTKČeská pozice
Director Jiří Vejdělek (left) with actors Vica Kerekes, Petra Hřebíčková and Jiří Macháček at the opening of ‘Men in Hope’

Considered among the most successful Czech filmmakers of his generation, Jiří Vejdělek, 39, already has a long list of achievements to back up his reputation. Starting as a co-director of a popular TV show “Redakce” (2004), he soon moved into feature-length cinema.

His directorial debut was based on the novel “Holiday Makers” (Účastníci zájezdu, 2006) by the bestselling Czech author Michal Viewegh — for which Vejdělek also co-wrote the script. It became an instant audience hit with over 800,000 tickets sold. The film was also well received abroad: Eva Holubová, who played the lead role, won a Best Actress Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Vejdělek followed his triumph with the drama “Václav” (2007) inspired by the true story of one of the vast number of presidential pardons that Václav Havel granted during the 1990s. However, the film remains his only drama as, according to the director, comedy is the genre that most attracts Vejdělek.

After “Roming” (2007), a crazy comedy about three men’s journey to meet a bride, Vejdělek wrote and directed “Women in Temptation” (Ženy v pokušení, 2010), looking at the fairer sex and their love affairs, landing Vejdělek another Czech audience record with 1.2 million tickets sold.

Last week, the director introduced his new film, a sequel to “Women in Temptation” called “Men in Hope” (Muži v naději), which takes a closer look at men and their take on the topic. He spoke with Czech Position about the inspiration for his latest film and the creative process.

Q: Is ‘Men in Hope’ a comedy for men?

Well, it certainly is a comedy but not only for men but for all other genders, including women. Actually, women inspired me to do this film because after ‘Women in Temptation’ they were asking me about men and love relationships and why we act like such jerks. I wanted to defend us a bit and give them answers. But to do this with all of them separately would take ages, so I wrote a script and made a film about it.

Q: What should the audience expect?

Only the best, of course. We know each other by now, don’t we? So definitely some bold humor, provocation, irony and, hopefully, emotions, too.

Q: You like to provoke in your films. How do you come up with the topics?

When I think about a new film, I reflect on what I want to say, and when I come up with something I should not be saying then I get a craving to do a film about it, to create controversy. You can’t do a film about textbook truths; you have to spice it up a bit for the audience.

Real-life stories inspire me. Especially for my last two films, I took inspiration from my own love affairs and awkward situations, but that wouldn’t be enough. As a mischievous author, I like to get my characters even in a bigger trouble so we can than watch them deal with the situation and have a laugh.

Q: ‘Men in Hope’ is spicy indeed..

I think it’s just about the right amount. People who ‘like it hot’ will find it there, but I think nobody will have a heart attack during the film.

Q: Were there any surprises during shooting? Did you add anything that wasn’t scripted?

I have to admit that my films are more and more strictly based on the script, maybe because I started co-producing them, so we don’t shoot a lot more than we need. But I was definitely surprised every day on the set. First, the actresses were amazing. Not just the way they looked but also their incredible acting skills amazed me.

Simona Stašová was great as always but also Vica Kerekes, a Hungarian actress, and Petra Hřebíčková apart from being beautiful also are divine actresses so I was swept off my feet every day. And, of course, add to that Jirka Macháček and Bolek Polívka and the recipe for surprises on the set is complete.

Q: How about improvising on the set?

When [Jirka and Bolek] started improvising, I just waited until they were done and then we shot it according to the script. The interesting thing is that while I knew both of them from previous films, I realized only now that although they are perceived as typical creative actors with an inclination to improvise, both have different ways how to go about it.

While Jirka likes to rehearse a lot and then can repeat the act, which looks like improv, many times over, Bolek acts the same part differently each time. So when I wanted a certain result I had to ‘tire Bolek out’ by letting him work with Jirka to get exactly the shot I wrote in the script.

Q: Apart from the one drama ‘Václav,’ all the films you shot were comedies. What is it about the genre and do you plan to continue working in this direction?

I like comedies because the idea of a laughing audience waiting at the end of all the sometimes very hard work is something I look forward to. I like all genres, but I think that serious films are easier to shoot than comedies. I like challenges, so in the end, I am always drawn to a comedy even though I have finished drama scripts.

Q: How exactly is it harder to shoot a comedy?

When you look at ‘Women in Temptation’ and ‘Men in Hope,’ the story is pretty serious, but solution has irony and lightness in it. Wit, timing, energy between actors is important for the true portrayal of a situation, so it’s more difficult.

We had one scene called ‘sperm collection’ that I shot in two ways: serious and comical. We needed seven takes for the comical version but only one for the serious version. There are a lot of plot points that have to fit together so the audience can follow the story and be entertained.

Q; The main topic in this film is cheating. What’s your opinion about it?

It’s very different for everyone. Cheating carried out well could be generally beneficial for men and women. For women in particular, when it’s done with me — that I can guarantee.

Q: Which directors inspire you?

I haven’t seen their films for a long time, but I’d have to say that Charlie Chaplin, Federico Fellini, Miloš Forman, and Woody Allen are those who inspired me to actually try something similar, and I’ve had this complex that I won’t be able to do anything so great ever since. I admire them because they managed to create excellent films and also draw audience to the cinema. I think that’s art in its highest form.

Q: Do you also look for inspiration in Hollywood romantic comedies?

I always say that film should have the right sex appeal for the audience because they don’t have to go to the cinema to see something they can watch at home. But when they finally get up and come to the cinema, I’d like to give them an extraordinary experience.

Plot, actors and actresses, sets and atmosphere... Czech [filmmakers] face the Hollywood pressure, and we have to deliver the same standard the audience is used to from American films, so they won’t feel they are getting less for the same price.

Q: So we can look forward to more comedies from you in the future? What is your next project?

I think so. I’ll keep doing topics with energy and temperament in them. If they also have humor, the better. The next project depends on what situation I’ll be in after the ‘Men in Hope’ premiere, but one of the possible projects is a remake of ‘Women in Temptation’ in English.

Hana Gomoláková is a Prague-based freelance writer