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Zdeněk Svěrák — Celebrating his 80th Birthday

A LOOK AT SVĚRÁK’S LIFE AND CAREER AS WE APPROACH THIS JUBILEE. Czech Centre London is celebrating the 80th birthday of Czech actor, writer and cultural icon Zdeněk Svěrák on March 28th. Screenings of The Elementary School (1991) — an Academy Award nominated film written by Svěrák and directed by his son, Jan — will be simulcast worldwide on the night of the 28th.

Tickets for the London screenings, at Deptford Cinema and Gate Picturehouse, can be found here: Tickets

It’s no wonder why Zdeněk Svěrák is an icon in Czech culture: born in Prague in 1936, he has lived, studied and worked there ever since, enjoying a prolific career across the arts while becoming a popular, relatable public figure.

Spanning theatre, film, music and humorism, his work, alongside his personality, has cemented his status as the embodiment of Czech wit, creativity and poeticism. From his education, in Czech language and literature at Prague’s Charles University, to his devotion to Czechoslovak settings and subjects, Svěrák’s art shows a complete understanding of 20th century life in central and eastern Europe, capturing the zeitgeist perfectly.

In the realm of cinema, Svěrák has often written and acted in films directed by his son, Jan, such as Kolya (1996), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Elementary School (1991), nominated in the same category, is another example of this familial team working at home, but with success both domestically and abroad.

The autobiographical story of his childhood memories, Elementary School draws us into Svěrák’s light-hearted but wise perspective. Zdeněk has also written screenplays for director Jiří Menzel, such as My Sweet Little Village (1985, also Oscar-nominated). Though these films are diverse, they all balance Svěrák’s sarcastic sense of humour and his innate knowledge of quotidian Czech life.

This sense of humour is shown in Svěrák’s other creations — in particular, the legend of Jára Cimrman. Cimrman is an entirely invented individual, a character of genius intellect and grand achievements. But Cimrman is virtually alive thanks to the Czech tradition that plays off Svěrák’s myth. The entire country understands the ‘game’ of speaking about Cimrman as if he is real. As a child, I recall visiting the Petřín Tower in Prague, which houses a museum dedicated to the character. I was told that Cimrman designed the tower, and influenced the building of the Eiffel Tower in the process — I believed it.

More recently, Svěrák has continued his career appearing as a familiar and comforting face and voice in films like the fairytale Three Brothers (2014), which he once again wrote for direction by his son. Parents and children alike recognize and adore the actor, whose upcoming birthday is sure to be celebrated across the country and beyond.

Get a ticket for a screening of The Elementary School on Monday 28th March here: Tickets

Text: Nick Mastrini
21 March 2016