Who will watch the watchdogs

Kdo bude hlídat hlídače? Dalibor, aneb klíč k chaloupce strýčka Toma

Kdo bude hlídat hlídače? Dalibor, aneb klíč k chaloupce strýčka Toma

Photography: Karel Slach
Editing: Renata Pařezová
Sound: Libor Sedláček

With the documentary Who Will Watch the Watchdogs, Karel Vachek completes the tetralogy Small Capitalist, in which he reflects all the troubles and flurries in the development of Czech society after November 1989.

The author has erected an enormous structure in order to teach viewers to see animate expressions of change as nature. There is not one theme that would alone represent the hull of Vachek’s Czech ark, as its beams are still trees with roots and the director is more interested in the waves underneath, in the state of affairs. Vachek is interested in a change in paradoxes, reflected from words, lives and actions. He reconstructs the structure of reactions to the state of the Czech way and turns thoughts of discourse into images. But images do not suffice as they are still too concrete and merely reproduce concrete feelings. He is looking for something that would constantly re-evaluate variations of presumptions from simple images, something that would strip them of supremacy of sense to attain absolute sense, a collective catharsis. He comes up with opera. Opera newly defines Vachek’s subject and method.

The subject of the last part is not genesis, but rather a multiple reception of the work. As regards his method of work, he is not interested in empirical exploration or recording of attitudes of individuals anymore, but rather in recording the reactions of a whole as one living organism. And thanks to music, such amalgamated reactions are in a sense impersonal. The reactions may be presented by distinct individuals, but the film does not allow these individuals any shifts or dynamics, only unambiguous ideas. But this is an advantage of the film, as this method allows for identification of the nature of changes in its clear form, without any accidental processes common for the individual psyche. From psychology, Vachek moved to phenomenology.

The film, which is several hours long, is set in the enclosed space of the National Theater, where the stage director J. A. Pitínský directs a rehearsal of the opera Dalibor. The third opera by Smetana, full of bold and unusual melodies unprecedented at that time, is chiefly a song of freedom. The world of film storytelling alternates with the rehearsal of the entire opera, words enter into a bond with music, and they are predetermined by it. Vachek takes the baton to direct his own symposium.

The first act with the court scene, charges against Dalibor and his admission of guilt, sentence to life imprisonment, forgiveness and crying and also the plan to free Dalibor serves as a backdrop for deliberations about Czech history, music of history and its interpretation, on the Czech society, which has so far failed to come to terms with its past. Bitterness of politics merges with thoughts about the position of the Czech Republic in Europe. At this point, it is clear that Vachek has chosen representatives of extreme positions, men and women from the alternative fringes, whose attitudes toward the institution of state and power may be irreconcilably different, but who nonetheless represent a phenomenon of possibility and liberating distance. A break comes with the meeting of friends of Andrej Stankovic, an emotionally intensive place in the film’s landscape.

In the second act of the opera, we see an attempt to free the knight, Dalibor gets his violin and later meets his avenger, who professes her love for him. Reflections are based on thoughts about devitalization, the alternative treatment of cancer. The technique of suspending tumors serves as a symbol of energy, signified by selected representatives of the permanent parallelism. These representatives interpret Smetana’s opera and the intrinsic possibilities of Dalibor and how they are manifested in Czech culture. While pondering the reception of Dalibor in Czech theatres, it is impossible to omit the bays of history.

The third act brings a new court session for Dalibor, who is to be beheaded. He is ready to escape and wants to signal by a tone of his violin, but the last string breaks. He is to die by the executioner’s hand but instead dies in a battle, just like his love. It is as though the last act encapsulated the Czech road toward capitalism. Speakers emphasize key economic problems and recall all difficulties of transition from one system to another, in which political exclusivity gave way to material privileges. The analysis of Czech entrepreneurial culture opens a window into the future with issues such as how Czechs cope with globalization, how the nation is to be constituted in a dissolved economy of supranational structures, what will remain, and whether it will be culture.

The heart of the last film of the tetralogy lies in the concentration of forces reacting to the idea of new order in the Czech Republic and at the same time offering a multitude of ways of thinking about them. The documentary, complemented by the powerful passion of music, marks a noble end to the tetralogy, which represents a vital symptom of one metamorphosis of Czech history.

Photo Gallery

Festival edition: 2002
Sections: Czech Joy
Awards: Best Czech Documentary Film


The leitmotif of this year’s edition of the Ji.hlava IDFF will be memory