“…A Bude Hůř” (It’s Gonna Get Worse), published in 1985 by author Jan Pelc, based in Paris at the time, has long enjoyed cult status, arguably remaining one of the rawest testimonies of the Normalisation period which followed the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The novel maps main character Olin and his acquaintances’ descent into booze and drugs in the ‘70s in a working class area in north Bohemia, a hard-hitting cocktail of abuse and destruction underlined by daily clashes with authority and a desire for escape.
…A Bude Hůř was first circulated in Communist Czechoslovakia as Samizdat writing; later it became a bestseller; now the story has been turned into a new film which has itself achieved cult status. Filmed in B&W and released in 16mm, the film version was viewable over the last few months only at special pub screenings or viewings at outdoor cinemas or festivals, a quirky aspect that contributed to ever-increasing public interest. This Thursday it goes into mainstream distribution.
The film’s director Petr Nikolaev admits that while the idea to go with alternative distribution was a good one, (many reviewers agree the screenings in pubs – echoing the stale beer and overflowing ashtrays in the book were appropriate), he was happy that viewers would now be able to see …A Bude Hůř in improved quality.
“The idea to originally distribute the film by alternative means rather than at classic cinemas or multiplexes was producer Čestmír Kopecky’s. He had wanted to do something like this for a long time and …A Bude Hůř was perfect. The film was screened in many strange places under strange circumstances: in pubs, in halls where a column might partially block your view, on boats. Each screening was basically different. Copies were in 16 mm, which meant there was a short break halfway through for the projectionist to change the reels. At some outdoor screenings the canvas blew away. And so on. But while it very interesting in the pubs, as a director I do admit I look forward to the release in the cinemas so that audience gets a better experience.”
The film itself goes to great lengths to recreate the atmosphere of Communist Czechoslovakia. What was important? The use of more decrepit locations in industrial north Bohemia, as well as the casting of many non-actors, especially Karel Žídek, as the lead. As Olin, says Petr Nikolaev, the longhaired Litvínov native was perfect:
“Casting is extremely important for me, the most important element. The audience identifies most through the actors and I really wanted those to be new and unknown: not someone who would act for me one day and then play a businessman in a TV series the next. Local death metalist Karel Žídek fit the part. I first noticed him in a documentary about the region, so we tried him out and it worked. I think it was one of the lucky things about the film: his authentic character and look.”
“We used 16 mm reversal film which was used at that time, especially in newsreels in the 1970s, but also for example by students at the FAMU film academy. It wasn’t my idea, but that of my cameraman Diviš Marek, who wanted to use it on an earlier production. For me, it was special as well, because it was the same material I used back when I was at FAMU myself. At that time, I did a film in the 2nd year called ‘Praga Caput Regni’ (1980) which was free-thinking film about the same generation of people, about the musical scene and that was something that was unacceptable for FAMU pedagogues at the time. I was thrown out of school for that project. 25 or 30 years later for me, it’s kind of a return to the source. …A Bude Hůř was right for this experiment.”
In the movie, Petr Nikolaev says that there are many moments when Karel Žídek pushes himself to the limit: among them is a well-known sequence at the end of the film where the character makes it to Paris. On the metro he lights up in a wagon car, one of the director’s favourite moments:
“There were many moments when I felt he was going in the right direction but one example that has been discussed a lot was the Paris sequence. That sequence was important both for me and for Jan Pelc, as both of us had lived there. We were filming on the metro with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and we got stopped by ticket inspectors. Of course we were filming without a permit and the first thing they wanted to know was whether we had permission. They asked us whether it was a professional shoot but we denied it.
“We pointed to our old Bolex hand-wound camera, the whole thing looked so antique they must have thought we were nuts. So they let us go and went to the next car. We then had to keep shooting and I needed Karel to light up in the metro and smoke. I was thinking the inspectors were going to kill us if they noticed. But Karel lit up and puffed away. We finsihed the shot as we neared the station and he calmly dropped the lit cigarette in his shirt pocket and squashed it with his finger. Smoking on the metro he was really in Olin’s skin and it was very authentic.”
One reviewer has commented on the internet that the film …A Bude Hůř is like the famous musical Hair with “a lot less singing and a lot more hopelessness”. Others have praised director Nikolaev from not pulling back from the original book’s unflinching expression. The director told me, back when he himself read it in France in the 1980s, he felt it perfectly captured the mood in Czechoslovakia; he then himself circulated his copy clandestinely with readers often having to finish the text overnight before passing it onto others. Turning it into a film, so many years later, was an ultimately unique – if at times exhaustive - experience.
“This really was a difficult shoot: 33 days that were the most
I ever experienced. We spent a night on a lookout filming when the
characters escape from the town. We needed a sunrise and we were filming
night. We only had about one hour’s break and it was really, really
intense. But that’s part of the job. In the end we didn’t even use the
sequence. But it doesn’t matter. What’s in the film is what I wanted.
think I was able to show that the period was exceedingly tough and
difficult – it’s not a light bittersweet film that would glaze over
period like Jan Hřebejk’s Pelíšky (Cosy Dens). It was a tough time
that some people had to ‘survive’.”