As the Academy Awards loom the Czech Republic once again finds itself rooting for one of its own - Ondrej Trojan - the director of Zelary - who brought a cycle of stories by writer Kveta Legatova to the big screen. The story, set in the rugged mountainous Walachia region of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II, brings together characters from opposite social backgrounds. The male lead, the role of a blacksmith played by Gyorgy Cserhalmi, is wounded and brought to hospital where Anna Geislerova, a nurse in the resistance tries to save him. Against the odds they end up falling in love. If you think the film sounds like it has all the trappings of a moving wartime drama, mixing just the right set of emotions to walk off with the prize, you may very well be right.
Of course, before Zelary became a film it was a literary sensation here in the Czech Republic: Kveta Legatova was a little-known writer when the book hit the stores three years ago, an author who waited until her early 80s before gaining wide attention. Her follow-up Jozova Hanule - was published soon afterwards and formed the basis for Ondrej Trojan's film. In 2002 Radio Prague spoke with the author, asking how the Zelary cycle came into being.
"Zelary was written thirty or forty years ago - the basic stories, though I had to make changes. But Jozova Hanule was written now - in the 1990s, when I was already in my 80s. I decided to write Hanule based on a competition put forward by the Milos Havel Fund, promoting the writing of film scripts. I thought 'Should I apply?' - then took a story from Zelary - the end of World War II - and expanded it into the new book."
As for the types of characters she writes about in that rugged region, a region she herself knew well for many years as a schoolteacher?
"The characters there have very sharp contours - that, which elsewhere is not so well-defined - or doesn't come to a head. Still, if I were to talk till midnight about the gallery of potential characters and you were able to choose from among your colleagues, your students, your neighbours, you would see uncover one story after another. It interests me so much. If I could only write it all - if one didn't have to do anything else."
The production of Kveta Legatova's stories into one of the most successful Czech films in recent memory - both among critics and at the box office - caps what is surely one of the most surprising careers. The nomination - and possibly an Oscar triumph by Zelary would be a nod to not only director Ondrej Trojan, his actors and his film crew, but also to Kveta Legatova - the charismatic elderly writer who brought the stories of Zelary to life.
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