Documentary film on Milan Kundera | Sunday Observer

Documentary film on Milan Kundera

26 December, 2021
Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera

A documentary film on world renowned Czech writer Milan Kundera was launched recently in Prague as Milan Kundera: From The Joke to Insignificance’ (Milan Kundera: Od Žertu k Bezvýznamnosti) - the title refers to his first and most recent novels. The film which was directed by Czech film maker Miloslav Šmídmajer’, was opened on October 21 in Czech screens and later on it started to hit the French screens.

Apart from directing, Šmídmajer he also collaborates with Jakub Vansa to write the script and also joins with Jiřina Budíková to produce the documentary.

However, the publicity-shy author does not appear in the film while his friends help to fill in the gaps. Kundera, 92 was born in Brno, Czechoslavakia, and has lived in Paris since 1975. He has not kept close ties with his home country,and until recently, he hasn’t let his novels be translated into Czech. MilanKundera is best-known internationally for his 1984 novel ‘The Unbearable- Lightness of Being’, and the popular film adapted from it. But his other novelssuch as ‘The Joke’, ‘Life Is Elsewhere’, Farewell Walz’, The Book of Laughterand Forgetting’, ‘Immortality’, ‘Slowness’ and ‘Identity’ are also wellreceived by the critics. His theoretical work ‘The Art of the Novel’ isconsidered to be a path-breaking literary analysis.

Documentary without protagonist

Kundera, an elusive writer, does not give interviews for media,and likes to be private – one can only find a few interviews of him in the internet,which are 3-4 decades old, and most of his photographs are also over 40 yearsold. So the documentary was made around a student who is writing a Thesis. Thestudent attempts to track Kundera down by approaching the author’s friends, whoprovide the bulk of the information.

The story line of the film is mentioned below “Milan Kundera is shrouded in mystery. He has not given aninterview in 30 years and doesn’t appear in public, so we must learn about himfrom his work. His essays and philosophical discussions within his novels reveal a lot. Besides, the film will ask: What in Kundera’s work got him thestatus of a legendary author? What is so unique about his books? Helping uscraft the story-line is a student who has a fantastic opportunity to do aninterview with Kundera.

After weeks of waiting in a cafe outside Kundera’shouse, reading his novels, the student soon starts to identify with some of the author’s ideas. Through this, we are able to learn more about the message ofKundera’s work, how and why his stories still move us and compel us not only tothink about the protagonist, but about ourselves.”

The characters in the documentary are played by Jirí Bartoska, Jirí Brabec and Nicolas Briançon, and the music is produced by Petr Malásek.

According to the critics, the idea of the documentary is somewhat like the structure of the classic Hollywood film “Citizen Kane,” where a reporter interviews people who knew a deceased, and in this case fictitious, tycoon to get a panorama of opinions on his subject. The film’s opening andclosing credits contain drawings by Kundera that had been in possession of Kundera’s friends.

The Czech friends of the author appearing in the film include playwright Milan Uhde, actor Jirí Bartoška, playwright Karel Steigerwald and historian Jirí Brabec, while the French people appeared in it are playwright Yasmina Reza, philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, novelist Jean Claude Carriere, and publisher Antoine Gallimard.

Winning the Franz Kafka Prize

The Franz Kafka Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the Czech Republic, was awarded to Milan Kundera in June, this year, at the French Embassy in Prague.

It was handed over to his Czech translator Anna Kareninová during a ceremony held in Prague, as he seldom travels back to his native country. There, he was praised as “the most Czech of all French writers and the most French of all Czech writers” by France’s envoy to Prague Alexis Dutertre.

The event was also attended by Czech Cultural Minister Lubomir Zaoralek andPresident of the Senate Milos Vystrcil.

Kundera is not only a great writer, but also an accomplished painter.

Though most of his drawings were created for his own enjoyment, in late May,some of them were displayed at a Czech Centre in Paris. The Czech culturalcentre in Paris this year inaugurated its newly reconstructed library afterseven years of closure, and on top of offering a wide range of French translations of Czech books, essays and plays, the library featured a specialexhibition of the personal drawings of Milan Kundera. The exhibition was titled as “Milan Kundera: A Nostalgia for Europe”, and some of the drawings werealready featured in some editions of his novels.

Highest-paid author

Kundera has been named ‘French of The Year’ by some major French newspapers and even ‘Brno Citizen of The Year’ by the readers of a local gazette in Brno, Kundera’s hometown. And this year he went on to become among finalists for TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year.

Moreover, ‘People with Money’ Magazine annual list of the “100 highest paid authors” put Kundera on the top of all.Accordingly, Kundera has taken the No. 1 spot on People With Money’s top 10highest-paid authors for 2021 with an estimated US$58 million in combinedearnings.

He has an estimated net worth of US$ 185 million, and owes his fortune to smart stock investments, substantial property holdings, lucrativeendorsement deals with Cover Girl cosmetics.

He also owns several restaurants(the “Fat Kundera Burger” chain) in Paris, a football team (the “Brno Angels”),and has launched his own brand of Vodka (Pure Wonderkundera - France), and istackling the juniors market with a top-selling perfume (With Love from Milan)and a fashion line called “Milan Kundera Seduction”.

When considering all this, making a documentary film on Milan the Kundera’s life is not easy. It is especially difficult when the protagonistKundera is reluctant to appear in it. However, he will live among the peoplethrough his books, notwithstanding the films.