The White World According to Daliborek by Vít Klusák has sparked debate thanks to the film’s dark subject matter – and the director’s approach.
Vít Klusák’s The White World According to Daliborek is an absurdly humorous and revealing portrait of a small-town Czech neo-Nazi and his nearest and dearest that offers insights into a world many viewers never get to see. However, the degree to which the protagonists seem to be acting for the camera in the stylised documentary has raised hackles with some critics, helping make it one of the most discussed Czech films of recent months. When I spoke with Vít Klusák, I began by asking him how he had found Dalibor K. in the first place.
“I discovered Dalibor on YouTube, when I came across a video where he presented a telescopic baton he had bought that day at an army shop.
“The video was signed, Created by Destructor 666. Through that name I came upon a different YouTube channel, where he had hundreds of videos, including home-made horrors where he slits his mother’s throat.
“When I discovered his bizarre world, I wrote to him, but he said he couldn’t appear in a film as his views could lead to criminal charges.
“He said he’d block me as he was afraid I was a policeman.
“So I had no choice but to set off to look for him in his town, Prostějov, with just a photograph in my hand.”
It’s remarkable how much racism and ignorance we see in the film, not just on the part of this Dalibor himself, but also from the people around him, including his mother and her boyfriend. Does this tell us something about the Czech Republic today? Or is it only the story of those specific people?
“I believe the film shows that the mood in the Czech Republic is turning brown.
“Things that were unimaginable before, like some politicians speaking in an openly xenophobic way, have spread among people.”
“That things that were unimaginable before, like some politicians speaking in an openly xenophobic way, have spread among people. It’s as if a boundary has been crossed.
“Naturally, it’s been caused by the immigration crisis and how the media have latched onto in a tabloid way.
“Even serious media talk about it as if it were a natural disaster, a mass of nameless people. This creates fear – and then it’s just a small step to hatred.
“For instance, the situation in which Dalibor meets his classmates and speaks in an openly racist manner and nobody argues back is, for me, much scarier than the moments in which he, as a neo-Nazi, expresses his views.”
Dalibor seems to get his information from some kind of obscure websites and doesn’t trust the mainstream media. He reads all kinds of conspiratorial websites. Does he in a sense typify a general trend in the Czech Republic, that many people are not now consuming mainstream media but all kinds of obscure websites?
“Dalibor doesn’t trust the system. Because it hasn’t done much for him.
“Also in school the teachers humiliated him. They held him back a year for some absurd reason. Given the life he leads, he has no reason to trust the elite, the media or politicians.
“By the way, he doesn’t trust doctors either, so all his teeth are destroyed.
“And this leads him to believe alternative nonsense – and he believes it more than reputable media outlets.”
The biggest question I had after watching the film was just why these people – Dalibor, his mother, his mother’s boyfriend, his own girlfriend, who all come across badly, or maybe very badly – agreed to be filmed?
“In my view, they have various motivations.
“In the case of Dalibor, he’s an amateur filmmaker and has made loads of videos, so he said he wanted to see real filmmaking, that he was interested in the technology, etc.
“We also motivated him by giving him fees, which mainly compensated for the fact that he frequently took unpaid leave to allow us to shoot.
“Dalibor doesn’t trust the system. Because it hasn’t done much for him.”
“As for his mum and her boyfriend, they wanted to show off a bit. Naturally, there’s a lot of exhibitionism in the film.
“But another basic factor is that nobody has ever asked these people anything. No journalist has ever asked for their opinion.
“And suddenly these filmmakers from Prague arrive and are interested in their views.
“So this opens up opportunities for them and they feel part of society.”
I’m sure you know this, but one big question surrounding the film is, how much it was staged? Some people even question whether it is actually a documentary. How do you respond to these criticisms, or these questions?
“It’s noteworthy that Czech film critics all address this question in the first paragraphs of their reviews.
“But foreign media, like Variety or Hollywood Reporter, accept this method and don’t dissect it.
“It’s as if the spectrum of genre possibilities was far broader internationally than here. Here there’s a rigid concept of what constitutes a documentary. For my part, I view it as absolutely authentic.
“We ask a protagonist to, for instance, park her car here and then get out and walk out of the shot. But that person still does the same thing they normally do.”
At the end of the film there’s what you call an “epilogue”, where Dalibor and co. go to Auschwitz. At one point he gets into a debate with a Holocaust survivor and then you come out from behind the camera for the first time in the film and become engaged in an argument almost with Dalibor. Did you feel like you were taking a risk stylistically by, after 90 minutes of a film that’s quite composed, coming out and taking part in the film?
“That situation has become the centre of the greatest controversy to do with the film.
“We left it there to show the major limits of the observational method.
“Here there’s a rigid concept of what constitutes a documentary. For my part, I view the film as absolutely authentic.”
“I shouted at Dalibor, and perhaps I should have handled the situation with more sensitivity, because I felt like he was being ironic. That he was treating that lady, a Holocaust survivor, ironically.
“But we also left that in the film to acknowledge a change in style. I started to get involved because shortly after I inform Dalibor of something very important that I can’t talk about here as it’d be a spoiler.”
But couldn’t you have predicted that if you took this Dalibor, this neo-Nazi, into this situation, in Auschwitz with a Holocaust survivor, that he would behave this way? Wasn’t it something that you knew was going to happen?
“Honestly, I didn’t know he would try to start a debate with Mrs. Eva Lišková, who survived Auschwitz.
“I was convinced that he would just go quiet and lower his eyes, once he realised that opposite him was an eye witness to those events.
“I’m always being asked, what scenario did I imagine was going to play out.
“But that’s nonsense with documentaries – I’ve learned so many times that things happen that you couldn’t ever imagine.
“So it doesn’t make much sense to imagine what will happen. I would have bet money that he wouldn’t say a word.”