Czech screenwriter and director Beata Parkanova says she had a rich mine of real-life characters and scenes to draw on in crafting her second feature, the retro drama “The Word,” competing in the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival’s main event, the Crystal Globe race.
The filmmaker behind “Moments,” a drama that competed in KVIFF’s East of the West section in 2018, is screening her sophomore feature at Karlovy Vary in what artistic director Karel Och calls a “masterfully told and highly original intimate drama” built around the family of notary Vaclav Vojir, “a small-town moral authority,” and his fiercely loyal wife, Vera.
The story follows its protagonists through a political and societal ordeal in the summer of 1968, with nuanced performances by Martin Finger and Gabriela Mikulková.
Finger’s principled probate notary and his suffer-no-fools wife, played by Mikulkova, were both inspired by Parkanova’s own family, she says.
“I wrote the first version of the script in 2016,” she explains, “although before I even started writing, I had been contemplating the idea of the story of two equally strong characters, a man and a woman, for quite a time.”
Her habit of spending considerable time walking while working out her story and characters aided in the evolution of this script, she says, even though “I knew from the beginning that these two characters would be based on my grandparents and the story’s framework is based on their real life.”
But even with a true story, she adds, “My task is not to copy the reality but to create a new fictional world.” She gave her two leads different names than her grandparents and set about to create a world in which both are committed moral figures who refuse to bow down to the communist-era politics of their day.
Although party members inform Vaclav that they need him to join up, even if just for appearance’s sake because he is respected in the community, he refuses – though that means taking on the kind of pressure that can break a man’s spirit and send him into clinical depression.
Vera, meanwhile, in a bravura performance, proves herself just as unflappable – as neighbors gossip and hospital staff endeavor to limit her visits to her husband – at one point pushing her way through a labyrinthine clinic in a remarkable extended tracking shot that took days to plan.
“I truly tortured my crew, both physically and psychologically,” says Parkanova about shooting “The Word,” so, she explains, this day’s filming was “a small reward for them, to see that it was not in vain.”
She thought about feelings, she says, when imagining how to illustrate a character dodging authorities while digging through a maze of clinical rooms to come to the aid of her partner. “I always think about how to shoot a scene in the way that it is intensive and touches you emotionally. I do hope and believe that when I choose a long shot without a cut, it is not boring but quite the opposite – that I’m able to build it in a way that it contributes to the drama.”
To Parkanova, “following Vera all the way through the hospital in one shot is the way to make us nearly breathe at the same pace as she does – to breathe with her.”
The importance of Vera in the story certainly transcends that of dutiful wife, Parkanova adds.
“My first film, ‘Moments,’ concentrated on one main character, which resulted in a very centrally oriented way of storytelling, both in the script and the directing.”
In her new drama, she says, she wanted to focus on “the relationship between two distinct people, which also means different visuals and a different kind of drama.”
When writing, Parkanova adds, she avoids “premeditated themes” and “scripts without secrets and questions.”
Her process, she says, is to “sort of study my theme continuously throughout the whole process of writing and directing. For example, in ‘The Word’ my initial main theme was the importance of the given word, the commitment. But as I see the reactions to the final film, it turns out that somehow love has sneaked in as well.”