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KARLOVY VARY 2018 East of the West

Tomáš Pavlíček • Director

"Absurdity is a source of humour, but you can use it to examine the characters' existential states"

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- KARLOVY VARY 2018: Cineuropa sat down with up-and-coming Czech director Tomáš Pavlíček to talk about the episodic structure and absurd humour found in his Bear With Us

Tomáš Pavlíček  • Director
(© KVIFF)

Emerging Czech filmmaker Tomáš Pavlíček returned to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival to introduce his sophomore feature-length comedy Bear With Us [+see also:
trailer
interview: Tomáš Pavlíček
film profile
]
 in East of the West, after revealing his feature debut, Totally Talking [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, on the same turf in 2014. In his latest outing, Pavlíček follows a three-generation family as they try to sell off their family cabin, and a plethora of comical situations subsequently emerge. Cineuropa sat down with the director to talk about episodic structure, absurd humour and whether an international audience will understand a quintessentially Czech leisure activity. 

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Cineuropa: What was the journey from Totally Talking to Bear With Us like?
Tomáš Pavlíček:
 Totally Talking was a very stylised film. After finishing it, I wanted to try something more civil yet still remain dedicated to comedy. The initial inspiration came from my own family and our visits to our own cabin. I wrote down some of my memories of the scenes and the atmosphere. Along with my co-writer, Lucie Bokšteflová, we dramatised them and tried to order them.

The script has an episodic structure. Was that part of your initial vision?
At the beginning, we agreed that it would be an episodic script with a collective main hero. It was very difficult to introduce a lot of characters in such a short time span. Another big challenge was holding the viewer’s attention and ensuring that the film would flow smoothly despite not having a unifying story arc. So we filled the script with a lot of gags and side events that would move the plot on. 

Why did you opt for a three-generation family?
I wanted to create as broad a family portrait as possible, for all three generations. And I wanted to approach the phenomenon of cabin holidays from different angles. I was interested in examining it from the different points of view of the various family members and letting these myriad perspectives clash. 

The topic of visiting cabins is almost exclusively a Czech affair. How do you think the international audience will react?
I attempted to make the film understandable to foreign viewers as well, although I am curious to know whether I have succeeded. One of the functions of the character of the stranger in the film is to explain and open up the local topics to those who are not familiar with them.

Absurd humour pops up frequently in the movie. Is this your particular taste in comedy?
I experience absurd situations in life and often seek them out – that’s why they ended up in the film quite naturally. I like to depict absurdity and to then analyse it rationally in a given situation. For me, absurdity is a source of humour, but you can examine the existential states of characters through analysing it. 

One of the most absurd elements in the film is the bear costume that eventually becomes the pun from the film’s title. How did that happen?
The bear costume is one of the main absurd elements in the script. Like each true instance of absurdity, it came about almost by accident – I wrote a scene where a buyer visits the cabin, and among the various other things that have been left behind, he notices the bear costume. It was so out of place that I started to think more about it. Ultimately, we made the bear into one of the film’s leitmotifs. It also entered the English title by accident. We didn’t know whether to call the film Cottage for Sale or Cabin for Sale. We thought the international viewer would think that it was a horror film with a title like that. At the last minute, the pun with the bear and the double meaning sprang to mind. 

What would you say differentiates your film from other dysfunctional family stories?
I think it’s the dialogue-based humour. The family in the movie does not talk regularly, and there is a certain stylisation, as the characters frequently speak using bon mots. I wanted the dialogue to be comical and touching at the same time; it creates a comical commentary on their somewhat tragic situations. 

Are you currently preparing a new project?
I have written down some ideas, although I have yet to pick any up in earnest. I would like to continue with the comical depiction of family problems. Simultaneously, I would like to shoot an almost no-budget, dialogue-based film in which I would star.

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