Tonda Blaník’s a lobbyist. His hobby’s fashion at its boldest. His best friend’s his mum. And he’s running for President. This brief profile’s what we see in the first minutes of Marek Najbrt’s President Blaník (2018), a political satire that plays somewhere between fiction and reality: Blaník’s not real, but the elections are. So are his fellow candidates, and the fact that Blaník, brilliantly brought to life by Marek Daniel, did in fact announce his candidacy. If this sounds crazy, you’ll be surprised what else the film has in store.
Blaník’s candidacy’s not off to a good start. He swears, pushed people around, smokes where he shouldn’t and is constantly drunk. He even breaks off a television interview because his mum phones and pees off a stage at a rally. A few years ago, maybe, his character would have seemed hopelessly overdrawn and unrealistic. But it’s 2018 and we’ve seen plenty of politicians that aren’t too far away from this businessman-come-politician who engages in simplistic, populist rhetoric to make his megalomaniac dreams come true. And Blaník’s dreams are big: he wants to sell the Czech Republic off to China for his own financial gain. There’s only one problem: his assistant Luboš (Michal Dalecký), whom Blaník calls ‘Žížala’ or ‘Earthworm’, fails to hand in the required signatures at the right time, forcing Blaník to find an alternative plan. Instead of standing for office himself, he thus plans to blackmail the other candidates into signing an agreement with the Chinese. He doesn’t shy away from extreme measures, even setting up candidate Jiří Drahoš with his mother to blackmail the candidate with their affair. His closest allies Luboš and Lenka (Halka Třešňáková), which he calls his ‘monkeys’, do everything to support him. So much so, that Lenka even loses custody of her son, because she’s never there to look after him. Yet something lurks in the shadows. The Prague Café Society, led by an apparition of Václav Havel, not only kidnap Luboš, they also haunt Blaník, trying to convince him that he’s standing at the wrong side of politics…
From start to finish, President Blaník indulges in overdrawn satire. Blaník’s set in scene with his selection of flashy designer shoes and his two pet lizzards, called ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, whom he loves like his children. He doesn’t care about people in the slightest, though, and is, in his own words, ‘the biggest asshole the country’s ever had’. Yet even within this extreme characterisation, Najbrt doesn’t fail to include clues that link the lobbyist to the real political world. By letting him steal a pen at a public meeting, for example, he reminds us of former Czech President Václav Klaus pocketing a pen on cameraduring a news conference with the Chilean president in 2011. That way we’re reminded that, no matter how surreal the film may seem, it isn’t far from the truth. Blaník, who also features in his own online series Kancelář Blaník, has neatly been inserted into the Czech political scene, representing its current state with brilliance. His despotic plans to sell off the country stand in grotesque contrast to his glorification of Czechia’s greats in politics, Masaryk and Havel – and yet, uniting these oppositions in one character gives an adequate picture of the ‘dark side’ of contemporary Czech politics.
In fact, President Blaník’s a satirical portrait, not of lobbyist Blaník, but contemporary Czech politics on the whole. Presented in sleek shots and a with a great soundtrack by the electro band Midi lidi,it draws together fiction and reality in an accomplished way. Uncompromisingly critical, President Blaník’s a bravely outspoken film. Not only that, it also merges elements of a surrealist tradition of Czech film-making with documentary play – a genre, that’s becoming more and more established as political commentary in Central European film. In fact, Najbrt even filmed President Blaník with different endings, making sure that its final version would comment on the outcome of the presidential elections as precisely as possible. Because it’s so tightly embedded in the context of Czech politics, the film asks for a sound knowledge of the topic from its viewers. That shouldn’t deter anyone from watching the film, though: it’s a crazy ride not to be missed.
President Blaník screens at Regent Street Cinema on 2 November at 6.30 pm.