Interview with Martin Hollý
Every year, Out of the Past section brings classic, cult, rare and unfairly overlooked films, screened in their original or restored versions to Karlovy Vary IFF. This year's edition will introduce digitally restored film Signum Laudis (d. Martin Hollý) in its international premiere. Back then, when this World War I psychological drama was presented for the first time at the Festival in 1980, it received the Special Jury Prize. In 1981, an interview with Martin Hollý was published in Czechoslovak film magazine Film a doba, in which the director describes his relationship with history and the way he reflects it in the film.
Most of your recent films are set in the near past. What fascinates you about the 20th century?
I believe in the connection between two generations. Whatever happens to the younger generation always somehow refers to the preceding one. History does not only concern the past, it is also reflected in the present. I consider the topics of my films a current issue. The heroes who have lived through World War I carry their feelings and opinions of that period with them into the present, where they are confronted with the contemporary views and feelings of my younger generation, waiting for reaction. Although I haven’t experienced the historic event, I am becoming a part of it by meeting the ones who survived. It is my luck to be allowed to confront my feelings and opinions with theirs, and face them with my experience of World War II. Through this, I am discovering World War III that is happening inside us, becoming more and more palpable. It's a psychological war. This means that we are entering a massive triunity game of the moment, the situation and the decision. That’s why I love my job so much.
The characters in my film have no prospect of the future. I feel like a fortune-teller because only I know what will happen. I have the capacity to create the world of the past with all its characteristics, even with the stench of the trenches; and yet I know how it will end. That’s how my world can exist. I am the only one who knows if the character’s hopes are right or wrong. This man who lives in the present wants to shake off the burden of history, he is constantly fighting with his ancestors, his own atavisms, generic atavisms, trying to find his own path again with me. This fight for the idea not only makes him a better person, but also improves the socialist society of today.
After all, society and individuals will only be judged by the merciless history. And history only follows one path – the path of progress. History taught us that evolution of nations, of whole societies and of individuals does not happen in tranquility but in constant modification of injustice, unfairness, sweat and unfortunately, blood as well. That is how I know my films need to be set in the past decades, instead of the present time where I could only presume how the conflict will turn out.
There is a recurring motive of horses and trains in your films. Does it have a symbolic meaning?
It’s my childhood memory. Railway station. There is always someone departing, someone arriving. Where did they come from? Where are they going? As a kid, I used to spend a lot of time at the train station even without knowing who is coming and who is going. I became curious just like the astronomer searching for the stars. That’s why the trains became a symbol of my curiosity, representing my desire to explore the world and the people within. The horses have a symbolic meaning too. They are noble animals that live with us for a long time, helping us with hard work, fighting next to us in the battlefield; and yet, we are capable of abusing them. Think of the scene in Signum Laudis when Radovan Lukavský in the role of general Gross asks: „Kill the horses?”. This one sentence and the look on his face express the philosophical complexity of it all. This horrifying moment makes even his fake moustache rise. A great moment of a great actor. But not just that – it’s the truth, almost a physical truth. And that’s what it’s all about.
Source: Brechtová, A. (1981). Bohatství žánrů – jednota myšlenky, interview with the director Martin Hollý. Film a doba, 8, 431-432.
Related AIC articles:
Signum Laudis selected for Out of the Past section.