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BOX OFFICE Slovakia

A record-breaking opening for Slovakian film Scumbag

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- The political thriller has enjoyed the best opening weekend for a local film in national cinemas in the last 20 years

A record-breaking opening for Slovakian film Scumbag
Scumbag by Mariana Čengel Solčanská

2019 was a great year for Slovakian films on domestic turf, as the one-million-viewer threshold was exceeded for national productions (see the news). The most-visited Slovakian movie of 2019 ended up being The Rift [+see also:
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(see the news), an adaptation of Jozef Karika’s book of the same name, directed by Peter Bebjak. National distributor Continental Film has honed the art of marketing Bebjak’s films, resulting in a strong opening weekend at the box office. In August 2017, The Line [+see also:
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interview: Andrey Yermak
interview: Peter Bebjak
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drew 69,242 paying theatre-goers, while 83,266 viewers came to see The Rift during its first week on release.

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Incidentally, 2017 was also a record-breaking year for openings of domestic films (see the news). The romantic comedy All or Nothing was the first to break the opening record (64,931 theatre-goers), followed by Mariana Čengel Solčanská with the political thriller Kidnapping [+see also:
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(67,359 theatre-goers), and then The Line.

Director Čengel Solčanská has now returned to domestic dark rooms with another political thriller called Scumbag [+see also:
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(see the news), which she co-directed and co-wrote with In FILM producer Rudolf Biermann. The movie was specifically tailored for box-office success – and it has indeed achieved its goals, as 98,056 paying viewers saw the film over the four days of its opening weekend (this rises to 103,660 theatre-goers if we take into account pre-premieres). The feature has thus taken the top spot, boasting the best opening weekend for a domestic film in national theaters since 1993.

In addition, “Scumbag ranks fourth in terms of the most successful openings in Slovakian cinemas in the last 20 years,” revealed the film’s PR manager, Perla Žinčíková, adding that it had an even better start in movie theatres than US blockbusters and franchises such as Star Wars and Avengers: Endgame. Due to strong audience demand, a version with Hungarian subtitles was also delivered.

The film is based on the book of the same name by former investigative journalist Arpéd Soltész, the author of Meat (Once Upon a Time in East), which is also being readied for the big-screen treatment, for a release in 2021. The film depicts the rampant corruption present in the upper echelons of politics, with white-collar mobsters, organised crime and representatives of the Catholic Church. The story draws several parallels with real-life events, although the filmmakers have stressed that the film is “not a documentary”.

The success of Kidnapping, which touches upon the older controversy of the abduction of the president’s son, with some major fallout involving immunity, offered an initial template for success. Scumbag addresses several controversies that have been exposed and publicised after the murder of Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée (the film actually premiered around the second anniversary of their murder). Furthermore, the timing is even more uncanny, as the Kuciak murder trial is still ongoing and making headlines, and the impact should be even bigger given that the domestic parliamentary election will be held on 29 February. The topics and controversies tackled by Scumbag continue to resonate strongly during the campaigning period.

Domestic political thrillers, however, are not always guaranteed commercial success at the box office. Last year, two films of this genre failed to enjoy such an opening – By a Sharp Knife [+see also:
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by Teodor Kuhn and Amnesty [+see also:
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by Jonáš Karásek (see the news), which were seen by around 16,000 viewers on their opening weekends.

2020 is shaping up to be a strong year for domestic productions, much like 2017 was. Scumbag already constitutes a second strong opening for Slovakian cinema in domestic theatres, as the same team behind the rom-com All or Nothing returned with another romance, A Too Personal Acquaintance (made as a Slovak-Czech co-production), which had an even stronger opening than All or Nothing, enticing 74,686 theatre-goers.

In fact, the historic chart of domestic openings has already been rewritten, as A Too Personal Acquaintance snatched the crown from last year’s The Rift, and Scumbag has now performed even better. There are currently 19 domestic films (including co-productions) lined up for theatrical release in 2020, including Caught in the Net (see the news), Charlatan [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile
]
, Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace [+see also:
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interview: Adam Oľha
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]
, Servants [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivan Ostrochovský
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]
, Bourák (see the news) and Old-Timers [+see also:
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interview: Martin Dušek, Ondřej Provaz…
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]
(the best Czech film of 2019, according to the Czech film critics – see the news).

Čengel Solčanská is already working on a follow-up project that bears similarities to her previous works but is less fictional than Scumbag. It will be a political film tackling a controversial personality from (Czecho)Slovakian history, a Catholic priest and a president during World War II, who was sentenced to death for treason as he was complicit in the genocide of Jews in Slovakia. Last year, the Czech Film Fund supported the project, entitled simply Tiso, with €23,529. It is being produced by Rudolf Biermann's Prague-based In FILM outfit. The Czech Film Fund appreciated the fact that the script avoids tackling the personal life of the protagonist, as the story is framed by the trial in order to concentrate more on the political and institutional dimension of his tenure and the questions of morale stemming from it.

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