Polish master Wajda hails Czech icon Havel’s film debut

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Acclaimed Polish film director Andrzej Wajda hailed the movie debut of Czech freedom icon and ex-president Vaclav Havel, saying it fitted in to a fine tradition.

"Czech cinema has always been full of surprises for us," Wajda, 85, told AFP.

"Right from the start, they didn’t make political films, but films about people who find themselves in a political system. That’s a big difference," he said.

"They’re in a whole different category," he added. "We just can’t make films like that."

"Leaving", the first film by 74-year-old Havel, made its pre-premiere screen debut this week in the Czech capital Prague.

Havel was unable to attend because he has been in hospital with bronchitis since last week.

Better known as a playwright and anti-communist dissident and a key figure in his country’s peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution, which removed the yoke of communism, in "Leaving," Havel focuses on the final days of a political career.

The film is due to open in cinemas across the Czech Republic on March 24.

It is based on a play written by Havel after he ended his 14 years as president in 2003 and tells the story of a leader who, as he prepares to leave power, sees his world collapse amid treachery and a merciless confrontation with an unscrupulous successor.

Havel won renown as a playwright in the 1960s for his contribution to the Theater of the Absurd.

He then threw himself into dissident activity against Prague’s communist regime, for which he spent five years in prison.

When the regime crumbled, he was elected Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist president in 1989, and then became president of the Czech Republic after its peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, standing down 10 years later.

Wajda, in turn, has made dozens of films and is a three-time Oscar nominee: in 1976 for "The Promised Land", 1979 for "The Maids of Wilko" and 1982 for "Man of Iron."

He won an honorary Oscar in 2000 for his lifetime achievement.

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