The politics behind acting

author: Jana Kománková, Czech Businness Weekly, 22. 09. 2008

Actor and politician Matěj Stropnický talks to CBW about taking on dramatically different roles that shift his focus between pollution and poetry.

It is not usual to cast politicians in Czech films. If someone dares to do that, it is mainly for a minor supporting role that impersonates a politician. An eagerly discussed exception was director F. A. Brabec’s film “Máj” (May), which cast 25-year-old Stropnický, a journalist and member of the Greens (SZ) for the part of the restless Vilém. The film charts the story of Kat, played by Jan Tříska, who returns to his home country after seven years, and gradually unravels the tragic story of one woman and two men. The film is based on a lyrical poem by Karel Hynek Mácha that was published in 1836.

One thing that is revealed clearly about Stropnický—even after fairly scathing reviews for the film “Máj” and after his being called out from the national council of the Greens, he does not give up. “They cannot get rid of me that easily,” he says energetically.

Q: Reviews for the film ‘Máj’ were not positive. It must be annoying to open any newspaper and see reviews saying that you were over the top.

A: I myself write…

Q: – and your reviews are not kind.

A: I expected it. But I would not guess that they were to have a political tint. On [news sever], they wrote that I am ‘even more affected than at national conventions and council meetings.’ Besides the fact that the author has never been to any of the conventions, it is not my voice in the film because I was dubbed.

People are not able to cope with the differences between their own images of ‘Máj’ and the image of director F. A. Brabec. The film objectively speaking has some defects. Sometimes it is too stylized and kitschy. But it is an attempt to turn a poem into a film, whereas some of the criteria they set on the film seem like criteria for a Hollywood film. I would not say that the film is as bad as the reviews picture it. In [daily Lidové Noviny] they wrote that Mácha was turning in his grave. But I think that the founders of the paper are also turning in their graves when they see how their newspaper looks now. I think that despite all faults that the film is criticized for, it will become a classic.

Q: It was your first film. How does it feel to invade this world?

A: It really is some experience to watch Mr. Tříska reciting in the wind. He often told the director that he felt he did not give his best and they redid the scene. In reviews, they talked about buskined declamations. Is it possible that this country is not able to take a little bit of pathos? ‘Máj’ is our most famous poem, so why shouldn’t it be declaimed in a serious manner? Are the people scared that it won’t be a gag then?

Q: You have been a member of the Greens for six years. What makes a 19-year-old person enter the politics?

A: I wanted to become a politician already when I was 18 but I could not get in the party at first because there were only a few organizations in Prague and only about 30 members. In January 2003, I succeeded and started the Green Party chapter in Žižkov [in Prague 3] where I am now a member of the council. I consider politics to be a very natural part of life. It is even one of its most interesting parts. In addition to that, I enjoy writing for newspapers, which I am trying to combine with the politics.

Q: Did you want to change the world when you were 19?

A: I joined the Greens because I believed that it was the party of my conscience and heart. I was certain that our society needed a party with a new program that reflected changes in the world, including climate change. Changing the world? I think I still want to do that.

Q: Does it hold back one’s great expectation when one is able to see many unpleasant things that are happening in politics?

A: I expected it. Needless to say though, I am more surprised by my own party’s business than by the council.

Q: Can you summarize your stance on the U.S. radar base?

A: I should not draw too courageous conclusions, but the ongoing conflict in Georgia confirms the argument that the antimissile system intensifies the international situation if you look at it through the lens of how Russia was treated in relation to the radar being allowed or not and in what form and where. It has an opposite effect to what we are given to believe, which is world peace. There is no need for it because no one is aiming at us and by building the radar we are actually becoming a potential target.

From our point of view, it also damages the process of European integration and it creates substandard relations, which does not help the joint European international and security politics that was so hard to patch up and that the Green Party considers its highest priority. This is probably something that someone older should be saying, maybe someone who was imprisoned under communism so that people get it. This way, they will be thinking that I am too young.

Q: Do you have any problems with people thinking you do not deserve to speak on certain issues? For instance, you never experienced hard work in a mine and visited there only to write an article.

A: I do, I do. But this is a typical argument used by the previous regime. It was used against all people with a university degree who were sent to work in factories. I think they would also like to send me to build a bridge or work in a mine, maybe to Jáchymov [in West Bohemia where there was a uranium mine].

Q: How do you feel after the party’s recent convention in Teplice, North Bohemia?

A: I am finding my bearings now and getting accustomed to the Green Party not being how I imagine it for some more time. I have been very visible in the party twice, and I lost dramatically twice. So I guess these are the ups and downs.

Q: What did you think of the emotional speech from Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (Civic Democrat, ODS)?

A: I thought that he would bring flowers for MP [Olga Zubová] and apologize to her in the name of his party. I think it was absolutely unethical of him to use our convention for his own interests which he enforced in a manipulative manner.

Q: Lyricist Zdeněk Borovec was your grandfather …

A: Thanks to him I did not develop such a negative relation to Czech pop music as is common among the Czech café intellectuals because I actually knew the people. I do not consider it as hollow as people today see it. But I do not follow contemporary Czech popular music.

Q: What kind of music do you listen to?

A: I am going to [Canadian singer-songwriter] Leonard Cohen’s concert, I like him and I am glad that I understand his lyrics now. I also enjoy the music and lyrics by [Petr] Hapka a [Michal] Horáček, though I do not like either of them personally. Their songs are not an intellectual fury but they are not stupid either. For me, the language is important—I like when the song has a message.

Q: What kind of literature do you like?

A: In summer I read “Diary of a Seducer” by Søren Kierkegaard. I saw myself in that character a bit. I like this kind of refined passion. Most of the time, I do not read fiction but recent social and political science works to keep me in the loop and also because I enjoy it, mainly because I enjoy it.

Q: What will you focus on besides your studies?

A: I will stay in the [Green Party] as well as in the Žižkov Council. I am not going to give up by any means—they will not get rid of me that easily.

Q: What are your long-term plans?

A: I would like to be a member of Parliament. Parliament is attractive for me even though it is a target for criticism and ridicule, and both of that with justification. The ability to change things is attractive for me.

Q: And no more films?

A: The reviews have not discouraged me. If there was a similar interesting offer I would not be afraid to take it … but the producers might be afraid to take me.

Jana Kománková is the editor in chief of Report magazine and a DJ at Radio 1