Miroslav Donutil edited the role of a factory worker, whom someone deprived him of what he is most concerned about in life: money and control over the situation.
How did the film Atlas of Birds come about?
At the very beginning was the desire to create a portrait of the old world, the patriarch, in the film his name is Ivo and it is played by Miroslav Donutil, actually a portrait of selfishness. And with co-writer Petr Pýcha, we thought about what could be the moment that will start this old-world funeral and allow us to capture it in various positions.
The acting part of the delegation of the film Atlas of Birds at the ceremonial premiere in the Great Hall. From left: Martin Pechlát, Eliška Křenková, Vojtěch Kotek and Pavla Beretová.
Photo: Petr Hloušek, Právo
So we built a parallel story of an accountant from his company, which falls in love over the Internet, and Ivo suspects her that she brought a lot of money out of the company because of her loved one. It was a trigger for us that would shake the existence of the whole factory, something that stands at the center of Iv’s life. It was very interesting for me to pit selfishness on the one hand and pure love on the other, all the more pure because it is virtual.
I think the result is a drama based on fragile things and that there is also a moral message about guilt and deserved or undeserved punishment.
Neither of the two characters will win in the end.
It is true. I’ve been working a lot on how to look at Ivo as a character you don’t want to cheer on. Respectively, my cheering is that I want him to learn something about himself, to see, at least for a moment, what he really is and what the world he creates around him is. But as a screenwriter, I didn’t want to give him a chance to change, it would seem fake to me. I didn’t want to make him Clint Eastwood in Gran Turin. In my opinion, such a person does not have the inner strength to change for the better. The question was whether the audience could connect to such a negative character. I tried to make our film as open as possible to the viewer.
I felt sorry for him – precisely because it is clear that he cannot change. Denying oneself is not easy for anyone, especially at his age, with a lifetime behind his back…
They are two things. As a screenwriter, I didn’t want to write him scenes where he would show a more human side, that would be artificial. But as a director, I tried to soften the edges, to build an opportunity for the audience to have some empathy, an understanding for this dinosaur with a very problematic relationship to the environment, including his own family.
Photo: Petr Horník, Právo
Will we not all become similar dinosaurs at a certain age?
I hope not. The prospect is terrible. There should be a detector that will at least tell me I should stop making movies. But sure, I’m interested in the character. Lately, the world has shifted to seeing everything in either black or white, there is nothing in between. At the same time, a few years ago I didn’t find it so sharp. And the film, in my opinion, should go against it, it should examine all aspects of the problem, different perspectives, even from sides that may not be nice to us. He should be able to question all unambiguities, force the viewer to think more about things, not have an immediate opinion.
Is film a suitable medium for this?
Every medium is suitable for dialogue with the viewer. But maybe now the black-and-white era wishes for more socially critical films, which have a clear opinion and try to convince their viewers, or even more often to confirm what they thought before coming to the cinema. But these are not movies for me. I wouldn’t want to shoot like that.
In my opinion, the film has the ability to arouse empathy in people through emotions, which can transform it more deeply than when it tries to impose an opinion on refugees or capitalism.
Working with emotions is a difficult thing. Of course, you get the viewer on your side by identifying with the characters or by being interested in the story. But your film world must not absorb it too much again, because then it is easy to forget that it is also talked about on the screen. In my opinion, it is important to disconnect the viewer from the film world from time to time.
On Sunday afternoon, the delegation also presented the Atlas of Birds to the audience in the CT House.
Photo: Petr Horník, Právo
The films that managed to hit me in the past had in common that they surprised me at one point, startled me: the character did something I wouldn’t expect at all, and suddenly my gaze turned to her completely. And I started thinking about the whole film, what the author actually wants to tell me, it was no longer just about experiencing their troubled destinies with the characters.
How important is it to the factory owner Ivo that he is rich?
I tried to avoid the first portrayal of wealth. For example, when we show his house, it would be quite advisable to work with the tastelessness that is often associated with money. For me, however, the situation where Ivo loses company money is more about losing control. His whole life is based on control: he maintains control over his company and family. And suddenly everything gets out of his hands, the system starts to collapse. He tries to save him, but he hits a wall: technologies and relationships he no longer understands, which don’t work according to his outdated rules. In the middle of the film, it actually happens to all the characters that they suddenly don’t know what to do next. The film becomes a portrait of helplessness.
Miroslav Donutil in the film Atlas of Birds (2021)
Have you seen the HBO series Fight for Power? The situation of Ive’s family reminded me of something: the old patriarch does not want to relinquish his position or the power associated with it, and his children are impatiently waiting to be allowed to take the helm.
Struggle for power I like it, but I didn’t see it until the time of filming and I was a little horrified at how many common themes we have there. One of the creators of the series is Adam McKay. And as we talked about the surprise in the movie, my favorite is his older film Bet on uncertainty about a group of financial speculators who predicted the arrival of the economic crisis in 2008. It’s been a classic Hollywood for a long time: you join the sympathetic characters, you support them – and finally you see yourself that you can’t wait for the world to finally collapse. You are happy when the first bank goes bankrupt, you are actually a fan of people losing their jobs, their homes. It seemed very clever to me: to lure the viewer in terms of genre and then give him a moral slap. This is also my ambition: to make engaging films that at one point completely deviate from the audience’s expectations.
Why did you choose Miroslav Donutil for the lead role?
In fact, I couldn’t think of anyone else who could play it. Almost everyone has an opinion on Miroslav Donutil, almost everyone has a relationship with him, often quite sharpened to one side or the other. He is perceived as a comedian and, conversely, as a character actor. That suited Ivo, I needed an actor who would have as many contradictions as possible. If I was filming Atlas of birds in France, I would like Gérard Depardieu. And there is also a piece of that patriarchality in Miroslav Donutil. As I watched his older films, I saw how he could send an unpleasant, uncomfortable look. That’s another thing I like about the film – when the character causes you discomfort.
We mentioned the second line at the beginning. I don’t want to reveal much, but is there an accountant in that story who falls in love with a complete stranger via Facebook, as well as your comment on what modern technologies do to us?
There are many similar stories around the character played by Alena Mihulová around us, so many that it can no longer be attributed to the naivety of one person. Suddenly you are talking about the fact that there are obviously an awful lot of people who are lonely today and are trying to fill the emptiness as quickly as possible. Maybe someone doesn’t understand how an elderly woman can fall in love like this from a distance. But it actually works similarly to the 19th century, when people were just writing love letters. The feeling deepened all the more because you were not in contact with the other person, you could idealize it, you did not see its mistakes, which in normal coexistence float quite quickly to the surface. You will create a huge, loving world created very quickly, created in your image, which you do not want to lose at any cost when you come into contact with reality.
Do you think that technology is changing us in this direction, isolating us?
In our film, the character is from the older generation, the easier it fails, she doesn’t have enough information about possible risks, it’s not obvious to her what is obvious to young people, she’s not ready for it. That generational aspect is very interesting.
Alena Mihulová (right) and Eliška Křenková in the film Atlas of Birds (2021)
I also think about it from the point of view that a generation is being born today that will probably have completely different ways of communicating and perceiving imagery than we are. What kind of films will be made for them? How will pictorial narration change? Can I make a movie for them?
So what do you think the future of the film will look like?
I have no clue. The author’s film will probably be more like an opera, it will be made for fewer people, there will be less money in it, but its viewers will be more faithful. With the advent of the series, the role of the director also receded into the background, it is more of a screenwriting discipline than a director’s discipline. These are simply not the best prospects for me. But I don’t want to complain, I don’t want to criticize that the world is changing, I would end up like Ivo. I wonder what’s coming.
Our last topic is birds. In the film, they act like a theater choir, which tells us the general truths about wealth and poverty or, conversely, news about the development of stocks in the Chinese market…
I enjoyed letting them start talking the moment the main character became a little paranoid. I also found it interesting how the virtual world devours nature. The logo of Twitter is a bird, we store information in cloud – Cloud. And thirdly: these birds often say terrible nonsense, but at the same time they are still actively interested in the world around them, unlike human characters, who no longer deal with anything but money. Whereas birds, for example, discuss climate change. It seemed like a good ironic moment.
At the same time, you work with animal characters repeatedly, whether they are birds, flies or dogs.
I try to empathize and understand human characters, but in fact I quite like the view of the author of a science film, I like distance, I like to laugh at small human motives. One feels that he is the navel of the world, and it occurs to me that through animal characters he can manage to draw the viewer’s attention to things that are more important.