Jánošík: A True Story is the title of a new film about the 17th century highwayman Juraj Jánošík, a Robin Hood-like figure who is a national hero in Slovakia. However, despite the huge importance of the Jánošík story to Slovaks, the movie stars a Czech actor, and was made by a Polish director.
The epic movie Jánošík: A True Story has just been released in Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. The real life Slovak highwayman, who is said to have stolen from the rich and given to the poor, became the stuff of legend in what is now Slovakia following his execution in 1713. It is perhaps surprising then that the young actor who plays the outlaw, Václav Jiráček, isn’t Slovak, but Czech.
“Jánošík is a subject that is closely associated with the sense of nationhood in Slovakia, it’s really part of their mentality. I understand those who at first doubted my ability to play the role, but I think in the end I persuaded them I could do it. I appear a lot in the film, and I really tried to get inside the role – I felt I could really relate to a lot of the script.”
There are three versions of Jánošík. Actors from Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic performed their own parts in their own language, and then dubbed the other two versions. It was possible to do that without great difficulty as all three languages are Slavic and quite similar.
Polish director Agnieszka Holland co-helmed what is the biggest film of the year in central and eastern Europe.
“You know, he’s a national hero, but he isn’t a ‘classical’ hero. After all, he’s an outlaw, a criminal. Slovakia is probably the only country where the national hero is an outlaw. Even in Ireland – they fight for freedom. It’d be an exaggeration to say Jánošík is fighting for freedom. He’s having fun. It’s true there’s a fixed idea of who he was, but what would be the point of shooting something the same way it’s been done before? None.”
Indeed, like Robin Hood, Jánošík has been the subject of many films. But none as lavish as this new big-budget version, which at one point looked like it would never be finished: half way through filming, the money ran out and the project was put on hold for several years. Václav Jiráček:
“It was really unfortunate when that happened, it was like when your
first love leaves you, it was a big disappointment…When filming started
up again I went back to the project with the same enthusiasm I’d had
previously. Luckily I hadn’t changed too much physically in the
intervening six years – and my relationship to the main character
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