National Theatre – Drama, Prague, CZECH REPUBLIC
directed by: Jiří Havelka
Exclusive screening of an original film by J. Havelka. Suggestive and authentic filmic work about a post-war civilian massacre not singular in Czechoslovakia.
This video film, subtitled A Documentary Anatomy of Mass Murder, was originally meant to be a theatre production. But the COVID-19 outbreak crossed the plans of director Jiří Havelka and the Drama company of Prague’s National Theatre. So was born a suggestive and authentic filmic work about a post-war civilian massacre not singular in Czechoslovakia. They are among the darkest moments of our history. The Přerov massacre by Švédské šance took place on the night from 18 to 19 June 1945 and resulted in the death of 265 Carpathian Germans, Hungarians, and Slovaks – mostly women and children from Slovak little town Dobšiná. A total of 34 recorded authentic testimonies about the event resemble videocalls, that is to say, the setting of much of our lives during lockdown. Make no mistake: they are no less terrifying. The witness accounts pose many questions about truth, the objectivity and subjectivity of history, good and evil, and the sinister side of human nature. We have programmed this theatrical film featuring excellent actors’ performances (S. Rašilov, I. Orozovič, F. Němec, D. Prachař, D. Matásek, P. Batěk, A. Fialová, M. Borová, and others) in a unique festival format as a collective experience – a screening on the big screen of the Andrej Bagar Theatre’s Great Hall in the presence of director.
Post-war civilian massacres, of which Czechoslovakia saw multiple, are thought among the darkest moments in our history. They call into question simplistic narratives about the evil and guilt of aggressors who assailed our people, and especially about alleged re-establishment of justice and reconciliation with wartime wrongdoing. They remain weakly documented and unexamined by historians, not least because they are traumatising both to participants – especially those made so against their will – and to witnesses. One such occurrence was the massacre at a mound near Přerov known as Švédske šance. It took place on the night from 18 to 19 June 1945 and resulted in the death of 265 Carpathian Germans, Hungarians and Slovaks – largely women and children.
That day, two trains met at the Přerov train station – one carried home Slovak civilians, natives of Dobšiná and other villages, evacuated to the Sudetenland during the war. The other was boarded by members of the Czechoslovak Army’s 17th Infantry Regiment travelling from a ceremonial parade in Prague back to Petržalka. Some soldiers and repatriates even knew each other personally, having been born in the same village.
Commanding lieutenant Karol Pazúr, a member of the Defence Intelligence Service, ordered roughly 270 people including more than 70 children dragged out of the ‘German’ train. At night, Pazúr and another attending officer Bedřich Smetana forced some thirty people from the nearby town of Lověšice to dig a massive grave. In the early hours of morning, a firing squad executed the detainees stripped naked. The belongings of the dead were later pilfered by soldiers and locals.
Director Jiří Havelka returns time and time again to traumatic and ambiguous events. He wields the expressive resources of theatre as an instrument to probe complex historical happenings and shed light on their agents’ motivations, always seeking to accommodate the treated material in a theatrical or filmic form that does not deliver drama or theatricality at the expense of authentic quality. In the present case, he based his production on interrogation protocols recorded during Karol Pazúr’s investigation. The creators and actors recorded authentic spoken accounts of the event on camera.
The interrogation setting offered an opportunity for minimalist acting: the characters, following the director’s guidance occasionally heard from behind the camera, seized it masterfully. By their form the examinations resemble video-calls, that is to say, the home of most of life during the pandemic. The creators have tried to render textual archaeology in a contemporary visual form. The witness accounts, rendered in simple means, remain just as terrifying. Altogether the actors lent their faces and bodies to 34 testimonies.
It is intriguing to follow contradictions that surface up in the historical reports, as well as the ways in which partakers have processed their share or participation in the events. The creators chose to focus on two days during which the incriminated events – from the victims’ detention to grave-digging to looting of their bodies – took place.
This piece by Jiří Havelka and collective, among whom the most mentioned is dramaturge Marta Ljubková, reminds one of the methods deployed by Milo Rau and his International Institute of Political Murder. During a season when the epidemic barred direct contact with an audience, the Drama of the National Theatre Prague has once again proven that theatre in the age of internet does not simply mean routine dissemination of live stage production recordings. In the case of Eyewitness, the creators struck on a format offering an original brew of the resources of theatre, internet and film.
directed by: Jiří Havelka
dramaturgy: Marta Ljubková
cinematography: Martin Bražina
set design: Martin Černý
costume design: Andrea Králová
visual post-production: Martin Bražina
sound design: Martin Tvrdý
cast: Saša Rašilov, Jan Bidlas, Filip Rajmont, Igor Orozovič, František Němec, David Prachař, Jiří Štěpnička, Matyáš Řezníček, David Matásek, Vladimír Javorský, Patrik Děrgel, Filip Kaňkovský, Petr Vančura, Radúz Mácha, Šimon Krupa, Vladislav Beneš, Pavel Batěk, Ondřej Pavelka, Robert Mikluš, Anna Fialová, Jindřiška Dudziaková, Veronika Lazorčáková, Pavla Beretová, Magdaléna Borová, Alena Štréblová, Jana Boušková, Martin Pechlát, Luboš Veselý, Tomáš Jeřábek, Ondřej Bauer, Zdeněk Pecha, Sebastian Jacques, Jan Nedbal, Roman Zach
presentation at Divadelná Nitra supported by Slovak Arts Council, Nitra Self-Governing Region, The City of Nitra, SPP Foundation, LITA — authors society
Jiří Havelka (1980) graduated in alternative and puppet theatre directing from DAMU, Prague. Over the course of his career, he has collaborated with numerous Czech theatres, such as Dejvice Theatre (Black Hole, 2007, Production of the Year in Theatre News magazine survey; Wanted Welzl, 2011, The Murder of Gonzago, 2017), HaDivadlo (Indian in Danger, 2008; The World in Danger, 2012), Na Zábradlí Theatre (Ubu is Having Fun, 2010; Madness, 2014), National Theatre Prague (Mouse Paradise Experiment, 2016). Together with Vosto5 company, he tackles the theme of the typical Czech mentality by an original approach based on the principles of parody and mystification, e. g. in his homeowners’ meeting production Owners, which earned the Theatre News Award and which he also adapted in film (Czech Lion Award 2020 for best original script). He has also collaborated with the dance theatre VerTeDance (their production Correction earned the Czech Dance Platform Prize, the Theatre News Award and the Herald Angels Award at Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 2013). In 2008, he received the Alfréd Radok Award for Talent of the Year. In 2011 −2019, he led the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre (KALD) at Prague’s DAMU. He is a successful guest author and director in theatres across Slovakia: Elites, Slovak National Theatre, 2017 (featured at ITF Divadelná Nitra 2017); No Show Tonight, Slovak National Theatre, 2019; Earth Remembers, Slovak Chambre Theatre in Martin, 2019.
‘If we take a step back – and that is indeed near impossible – from the details of the indefensible act, we get, in the second plan, a series of captivating mini-stories. Soldiers who try to capitalize on the situation and promise survivors to ‘take care’ of their valuables. Devastated townspeople, who were forced to dig a mass grave and look on as the massacre transpired. And most of all, members of the local council, who juggle their eventual complicity and the action’s suspiciously smooth course like a hot potato. It is precisely here that Eyewitness can rely on the excellent acting that Saša Rašilov, Filip Rajmont, or again Matyáš Řezníček demonstrate within a span of minutes.’ (Tomáš Šťástka, iDNES.cz, 26 February 2021)
‘The actors are dressed in historical costume, speak a protocolar language with copious archaic phrases and word endings, but nonetheless their testimonies strike us as direct and authentic. As though we were put into immediate contact with the past through our screen. A sort of ‘cosmic’ drone permeates the space whence witnesses speak, and we barely make out in it certain concrete sounds, squealing train wheels and gunfire. […] We see no violence or blood, we hear no cries, nothing moves our emotions here, but everything whips up our imagination.’ (Marie Reslová, Aktuálně.cz, 23 February 2021)