Over the weekend I saw two documentaries in the European Union Film Showcase. The first, Citizen Havel from Czech Republic, was a look at the political life of former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Although I know very little about Havel and his policies, I very much enjoyed the film. It provided a look at political meetings and strategy rarely seen in the public media. Havel was seen meeting with his advisers about conflicts with the Czech premier (in the Czech Republic, the president is elected by the Parliament, not directly by the people), preparing for speeches with advisers telling him how to stand and his wife checking his suit for dandruff, and discussing upcoming meetings with other leaders. Two highlights include a trip to a Prague jazz club with former US president Bill Clinton, where Havel presented Clinton with a custom-made saxophone, and Havel attending a Rolling Stones concert and later inviting the band to the Presidential Palace. The film offers an unparalleled look inside the structuring of a new nation, and the triumphs and trials of its leadership. Havel even gives a glimpse into his private life, and, in an emotionally charged interlude, shows him looking out onto the Palace grounds at the state funeral for his late wife. After he remarries (which is also shown), he recounts the 30+ years of his first marriage. The portrait of Havel is multidimensional, private and public lives, achievements and setbacks. The only downside is that the film offers little history of the Czech republic or background on its government, which could leave some viewers lost among the policy discussions. Clarity issues aside, the viewer gains an unprecedented look inside the life of a world leader.
The other documentary was Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, a look at the legendary French filmmaker's abandoned project Inferno. Film restorer Serge Bromberg collected Clouzot's footage and shows it with readings from the script (the sound had disappeared from the decades-old footage) and interviews with crew members, trying to restructure the film and determine why the project didn't make it. It's hard to tell whether Clouzot's intended film Inferno would have been any good. With odd dream sequences that took a lot of technological wrangling, and Clouzot's obsession with getting the scenes exactly right, it was a highly ambitious endeavor, and a few of the crew members interviewed suggest that it was this over-ambition that led to the project's demise. As a look in the creative process of the renowned director, however, Bromberg's film is invaluable. Through behind the scenes footage and interviews, Clouzot's film-making techniques are revealed, including his preproduction storyboards that also used color coding to indicate the moods and emotions of the characters in the particular scene. The crew also reveal that Clouzot was particularly invested in Inferno, spending hours and hours trying to create the perfect scenes. Clouzot, called the French Hitchcock, was equally demanding on his actors, up to the point where his lead actor left the project midway through. The crew interviews alternately suggest that the actor had contracted a rare illness or that he had just had enough of Clouzot and his demands. Though the film itself was never made, Bromberg used the dead project to create a masterwork of his own, a look into the film-making process and a profile of one of film's most renowned artists in one of his less renowned periods.