TUŠŤ Bohdan Sláma’s film Landscape in the Shadow is an event of the film summer. It premiered at the Summer Film School in Uherské Hradiště and will go to the cinemas next week. His story is inspired by real events in the South Bohemian village of Tušť, where part of the population was massacred after the war due to alleged collaboration.
LN: As the author of the theme Landscapes in the shadows producer Martin Růžička is mentioned and the screenwriter is Ivan Arsenjev. How did you get into this project?
Ivan Arsenjev and I have been working on a different scenario for a long time, and as part of that, I watched from a distance that the collaboration between the producer and the original director was tearing up at Krajina v stázně. Then it tore completely, and I told Ivan a little rudely if he could read it to me. Ivan was very surprised, he thought I was only focusing on chamber topics.
I told him, because I want to do Švejk, because I enjoy those deep and multi-layered stories, so that I don’t care about this! And when I read the text, I said to myself that it was a meaningful directing and civic challenge – in the sense that the script tells about something that can resonate even today. The events discussed there did not take place as long ago as it might seem
LN: The depiction of neighborly relations at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s results in a shocking event, when after the war, some German-speaking people are brought to justice and killed. At the same time, it seems almost until the last moment that something like this cannot happen ….
When I read the script, the first half came to me as a well-written but expected description of familiar things that were happening at the time. I fidgeted a little. I was impressed, for example, by the fate of a Jewish family, but these were situations that I experienced in my soul in other stories. But then when they really lock those people in the basement …
When I read these scenes, I still believed it couldn’t happen. After all, they are neighbors. And then all of a sudden it’s there and you’re just staring. When the motive of the second expulsion was added, ie the eviction of the affected family from home long after the war, I understood the power of the story and its dramatic potential.
LN: Did the script be modified much more then?
In the original version, I was not very familiar with the characters. There were really a lot of them. That’s why Ivan and I talked about the characters and sorted them differently and adapted the situation together. But he certainly laid the foundation of the story. The whole process took quite a long time, originally a larger budget was planned, but we had to reduce it. Therefore, the film has a chamber form.
We have come up with situations so that everything really takes place in one village square, where people are pressed against each other and cannot avoid each other. This is also related to the way of shooting, which we love with cameraman Diviš Marek. The camera hovers between the characters and creates the most natural picture of the situation. We were shooting in the village where I live, many neighbors played in the film and it was such a fighting exercise with maximum effect in front of the camera.
LN: Did you have to modify the village a lot to make it look like it was in the 1940s and serve the purposes of storytelling?
The village, where most of the action takes place, I went through many times and thought about all the possibilities of views. Together with set designer Jan Pjen Novotný, we figured out how to shorten the semi-trailer to get a narrower space. So there are outbuildings. But the basis is our real trailer. And it was also fascinating that in every attic of those houses we found everything that the time we had left behind.
Here in southern Bohemia, the 1930s and 1940s are still present in many respects. We found a lot of locations where we didn’t have to modify almost anything in the interior.
LN: Have you been to see the real Tusta, where the prototype of your story took place?
I was there to watch it when we were thinking about the film, but I knew right away that Tušť would be useless for shooting according to our concept. I didn’t even want to link the film to too specific a place, to imitate a certain locality. I just needed the feeling of a small village. Maybe something will happen in Tušť in connection with the film more after its release. The preview takes place in Suchdol nad Lužnicí, of which Tušť is a part.
LN: How is the tragedy reminiscent of the present?
The last time I was in Tušť this spring, at an act of reverence on the anniversary of that terrible event. We went the way they went to the execution. The procession began at the cellar door, where they were beaten. On the gates of the cellar was only the inscription “private land, do not park”. No pieta. When we arrived at the place of reverence and held a minute’s silence, someone in the opposite barrack turned on the flex and began to grind.
That is why I hope that our film will perhaps awaken empathy for events that were far from happening only in Tušť. I was absolutely shocked when Jiří Padevět’s book Bloody Summer ’45 fell into the hands of me as part of the study of contemporary contexts. I found an event there in Tušť, but it took up only half a page of the whole thick book. In the publication you will find photos of people at the time staring at the victims, as if it were such an attraction. The worst are the guys with submachine guns and grenades at the waist. Those who collaborated the most with the Germans then used these situations to show how radical they were.
LN: You have a topic Landscapes in the shadows with something you’ve worked on before?
I have met this topic twice in the field of filmmaking. Right after Wild bees I received an offer from producer Viktor Schwarcz to adapt Škvorecký Coward. Even though the film was not made in the end, Škvorecký’s grotesque view of various situations stuck to me. Josef Škvorecký describes extremely precisely the smallness and ridiculousness of evil. And a few years ago, I received an offer to film Jan Novák’s book Grandpa.
The book tells an incredibly interesting story about how a groom who came to a farm from nowhere, after a communist coup, takes revenge on a landowner who had taken it. That’s when I started thinking about how many times such a turning point in society gave the bottom line a chance to rise. That was another motive that got tangled in my thoughts and is in Landscape in the shade very important.
LN: Dark motives in Landscape in the shade clearly prevail. Is there also something in the film that you think can be used to draw hope?
When I read the script, I thought that in the end, it is only women who bring basic decency and compassion to society. That sounded good to me and I tried to emphasize it in many scenes. Female characters who, in all their misery, still deal with cohesion, while men are frightened and discarded.
LN: What made you think Landscape in the shadows like a black and white film?
I was looking forward to making a black and white film for a long time, and here it came in handy. It also met with the requirement for a low budget. I know from experienced architects that in a historical film, black and white really saves one third of the cost of the expedition.
I’m not saying this because I would like to shoot under other conditions Landscape in color. Here it was the right key for me, the canon of black and white film, the distinctive structures we used in all the decorations and masks. We knew we were making stylization, just like stylized sound. I didn’t want to tell the story as a so-called realistic film, we consciously decided that it would be a stylized narrative that would use cinematic speech in a way that suits the story.
LN: Did you solve a lot which characters and in what situations will they speak Czech or German? Their German is also very special …
This was extremely important for us, we did it really thoroughly and I hope we didn’t make many lapses about it. This is also a stylized matter, because no stranger can imitate the local dialect exactly. We had a counselor who is from there and knows the dialect perfectly, so we tried to make the most of every word and sentence. Multilingualism and, moreover, the fact that it is a dialect that even ordinary Germans will not understand, I think are important for experiencing the truth of that time.
LN: In addition to the main devastating event, the audience may be surprised by other facts that appear in the film. For example, the fate of displaced villagers who go to Austria, but do not accept them there, so they remain until the winter in the forests in no man’s land. Not much is probably known about that either.
This was indeed the case, because in Austria all the villages were crowded with refugees and others were no longer allowed there. This is an authentic experience of a real woman, according to whom the film character Mary is written.
Of all the characters in the film, her story is most similar to real fate, although all the main characters are also written according to authentic patterns, including the character of Pachl, who returns from the concentration camp as an irreconcilable and blinded avenger. However, this is not an exact reconstruction of one particular case.
What interests me most about all this is how today’s people would behave if they were exposed to similar situations. I am afraid that people who do not respect morality so much and are not very brave would behave very similarly. Without the support of the rules of humanity and morality and without mental anchoring, people are really capable of great misery.