Award-winning Czech comics writer and scriptwriter Vojtěch Mašek shot his feature-length directing debut Arvéd about a controversial Czech personality. Whilst biopic dramas are fairly popular in domestic mainstream cinema, Mašek twists the genre into an uncanny, byzantine form in a chamber piece de resistance.
The film about the legendary Czechoslovak runner Zatopek in the eponymous film has been sent to the Oscars to represent the Czech Republic. Most recently, Czech filmmaker Petr Václav revealed his opus magnum Il Boemo about forgotten Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, which was picked as this year’s Czech Oscar submission.
Similarly to Václav, Mašek unearths a less exposed, almost obscure local personality, whose life story he decided to invoke on the big screen. The writer-director Mašek has writing credits on the celebrated Czech graphic novel Saint Barbara, about the most bizarre modern Czech true crime.
Shockwaves were sent through the Czech public when the case of a mother who abused her seven-year-old son in their basement made the headlines in 2007 and 2008. The divorced woman in question took care of her two sons and on top of that adopted a 13-year-old autistic girl.
After police started investigating the case, it transpired that the 13-year-old girl was really a 33-year-old music composer (suffering from multiple-personality disorder). The composer turned out to be the driving force behind a shockingly extensive network of manipulation and abuse.
Additional discoveries pushed the case into the stranger-than-fiction territory, implicating the Boy Scouts, a Grail Movement cult, pedophiles, and Azerbaijan.
Mašek’s taste and curiosity for a real-life bizarre story translated into his first feature offering. Arvéd — full name Jiří Arvéd Smíchovský — was an incredibly smart and talented man, a genius by some accounts.
Nevertheless, his thirst for knowledge drove him to do repulsive things. Holding three doctorates and speaking eight languages, Arved started gravitating to occultism and cabalism.
He is rumored to start meeting with freemasons and practicing black magic with a special interest in invocations. He did not enter history books because he was fascinated by hermetism but because he collaborated with Nazis during WWII. Prone to pragmatic opportunism, he vigorously cooperated with communists after the war.
Arvéd’s political snitching is supposed to send 50 innocent people to the gallows. One of the bizarre trivia about this personality is that he performed a circumcision on himself. The aftermath of this surgical intervention is attributed as one of the possible reasons of his mysterious premature demise.
Czech writer Jan Poláček wrote a biographical book about Arved under the title The Devil of Malá Strana [the district in Prague where the protagonist lived]. Given the biographical knowledge, Mašek has asked Poláček to co-pen the script.
Mašek, unlike his colleagues, decided for a significantly different, even radical, take on the biopic format. Going against the conventions of chronological recap, the film’s structure is built in the vein of puzzle films.
More precisely, the director created an ouroboros-like spatial and temporal structure that usually Shahram Mokri’s films are known for, such as Careless Crime. Unlike Mokri, Mašek does not revel in the single-shot extravaganza, but scenes mirror each other in strange parallels and mise-en-abyme.
The director conjures up portals leading from one scene to another in a Russian doll-like labyrinthine design. The uncanny spacetime bending disrupts the chronological flux and Mašek moves freely across different periods in Arvéd´s life. The filmmaker operates with time as if it was the fourth dimension.
The temporal distortions blur the borders between subjective and outer reality. The boundaries melt into themselves, making Arvéd´s imagined events and actual events inseparable. Reality and the protagonist’s delusions become conjoined twins.
The bold formal choice makes the biopic, and the political and psychological thriller, even truer to the protagonist’s vision of life. Arvéd considered the world and life to be a theatre and he lived according to the conviction.
Flamboyant and provocative, the protagonist became a disrupter of social mores and the star and the director of his life in addition to being an impresario. He remains an enigma, a cipher to be interpreted rather than discovered.
Czech actor Michael Kern depicts the titular character with adequate braggadocio and an air of somebody hanging by the last threads over the abyss of insanity. Kern inhabits a self-centered narcissistic manipulator drawn obsessively to arcane knowledge.
Yet the Czech version of the Faustian myth is more layered. As a matter of fact, Arvéd is an unlikely addition to the Czech Queer Cinema.
Mašek’s debut is a character-driven cinematic venture that eschews explanations, set-ups or widening the context. The film may become a freefall into a series of rabbit holes for unprepared viewers. However, it is a highly stylized freefall designed with surgical precision and fetishistic panache for cinematic formalism.
Each scene remains imprisoned within the capsule of the room it unfolds in. Mašek transforms the claustrophobic set design into an ethereal transmission through the chambers of Arvéd´s life. The composition itself becomes a ritual transcending time, space, and reality.
- Vojtech Masek
- Vojtech Masek
- Jan Polácek
- Michal Kern
- Sasa Rasilov
- Vojtech Vodochodský
ScreenAnarchy – Cork 2022 Review: ARVÉD, Occultist Biopic as Transcending Ritual
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November 22, 2022