Interview with Director of Up and Down - Jan Hrebejk

Courtesy of the good folks at SONY we have the poster and an interview with the director of Up and Down. UP and DOWN takes place in the dead of the night, near the Czech-Slovak border, two smugglers discover their truckload of illegal Indian immigrants have left a baby behind. In a small Prague apartment, Franta (Jiri Machacek) and Mila (Natasa Burger) dream of having a child, but Franta – on probation because of his soccer hooliganism past - is not allowed to adopt, and Mila is unable to conceive. After cashing in on her savings, Mila decides to buy a baby from a pawnshop that fronts a den of thieves and pickpockets.

Meanwhile, an unusual family reunion is taking place: Academy professor Otto (Jan Triska) collapses while teaching, prompting his estranged son Martin (Petr Forman, son of director Milos) to return to Prague from Australia to see his father and his mother, Vera (Emilia Vasaryova), long separated from Otto whom she still pines for. Otto is now living with the beautiful and much younger Hana (Ingrid Timkova), who works in a refugee aid center helping immigrants to adjust to their new lives….

Q: UP AND DOWN is your first film that takes place in the present…

A: Writing the screenplay was a very natural process. My co-writer, Petr Jarchovsky told me about the story of a lost child reported in a television report about refugees. I also drew inspiration from the story of a Czech friend of mine from Los Angeles, about his emigration thirty years ago. We added a few true stories that we experienced or had heard of and the rest was fictional.

Q: The main themes in your films, whilst having comic spark, are always very serious. Can you expand on your fascination with “great events” playing out in the background of “little stories”?

A: With our previous films we never said: “Now we’ll make a film about the Holocaust or the occupation.” We have always been intrigued by a certain character or story. UP AND DOWN was no different. We always look for something compelling in our stories and in the humanity of the characters whose stories we are telling. In a sense, it’s a sort of plebian view of the world; history goes on regardless of our little characters. Our heroes don’t make history; instead they are usually its victims.

Q: Can you describe your inspiration for this new film?
A: Our main inspiration is what we see around us and not what we see in the theater. Personally, British cinema, for example Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies and Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot, is very inspiring. It’s contemporary and I see similarities in my work and their use of dialogue and character within the narrative. I also consider the work of Woody Allen and Milos Forman to be masterful.

Q: Why did you cast Václav Havel (Award winning writer, and former President of The Czech Republic) in your film?

A: The Burmese dissident couple in our film was inspired by my wife’s work for Amnesty International. At the time, she was working on an exhibition of photographs on Burma held under the auspices of then President Václav Havel. I knew that his participation in the film could contribute to the believability of this element of the narrative.

Q: How did you choose the music for UP AND DOWN?
A: The composer of the music is my long-time friend and collaborator Ales Brezina, who also composed the music to Divided We Fall. We worked with Goran Bregovi and Slobodan Dedeji (who have worked many times with award-winning director Emir Kusturica), and a number of top-notch Serbian musicians including Boban Markovi Orkestar and Ognjen Popovi. In addition, rising London club star Luk Richie with the current biggest Czech singing star Dan Bárta, worked on the film.

Q: Can you talk about the stars of UP AND DOWN?
A: Besides Jan Triska (Otto) (a great Czech film and theater star of the 1960s who now lives in Los Angeles), we had the pleasure of working with Milos Forman’s son Petr Forman (Martin) and Slovak actress Emilia Vásáryová (Vera), who first appeared in Vojtech Jasny’s When The Cat Comes, which won three major awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964.

Q: Where did you shoot the film?
A: Cinematographer, Jan Malir and I filmed in real apartments and on the streets in the center of Prague, often in a semi-documentary style. We were inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic,  which I personally consider one of the best films in recent years, in terms of style and cinematography.

Q: Part of the film takes place in Australia. What was it like to work there?
A: Milos Forman’s brother Pavel and his family have lived in Brisbane, Australia since the end of the 1960s and helped us a great deal. Some of the scenes were actually filmed in their backyard.

Q: Can you talk about the look and the sound of the film?
A: For the first time, we were shooting in CinemaScope and processed the image electronically after editing. We took our inspiration from Traffic and Amores Perros when deciding on the color hues. As for the music, we found the musicians among Balkan jazzmen and in a rock club in London.

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