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Slovak Studies Program

Martin Votruba

 

Fountain for Suzanne (1986)

Fontána pre Zuzanu

 

 

Fountain for Suzanne (Fontána pre Zuzanu, available with subtitles in Hillman Library) was a runaway success with the teen and post-teen generations, a film that evokes their nostalgic memories through the present, but did not enthuse its contemporary reviewers. With the communist authorities' decreasing interest in enforcing strict ideological doctrines in art, it focused on appeal and entertainment. In contrast with the implied social criticism common in high-brow screenplays, the filmmakers created a world where teenagers' problems with authority would go no higher than their parents and populated it with smartly costumed (by Ľudmila Várossová) and made-up (by Anton Gendiar) characters who waft through love, friendship, and family in a film with a novel pop veneer and 38-minute musical soundtrack.
Film release
Fountain for Suzanne premiered at Trenčín in March. By September, considering the size of the country, ticket sales reached an amount comparable to a film grossing $144 million in the U.S. within six months in 2008, a rare achievement for a Slovak domestic production. An equivalent of a gross of merely $200,000 was already considered above the level of a flop. Fountain for Suzanne easily outsold Xanadu (dir. Robert Greenwald, 1980) starring Olivia Newton-John, an available source of composition insight that was released in Czechoslovakia shortly before its production started. Fountain for Suzanne's appeal with other than teen audiences was substantially lower in the Czech-speaking part of Czechoslovakia and less intense (repeat viewings) with the teens, which reduced its ticket sales there to under a half of what they were in Slovakia, adjusted for the size of the two markets, but still secured it the place of the highest-grossing Slovak film there of the 1970s and 1980s. Conversely, it surpassed all the Czech production released in Slovakia in the same period.
The reviews were lukewarm, criticized its glossiness, superficiality, continuity issues. What passed without comment, but would probably be avoided in filmmaking today out of a concern for possible legal age issues, were the two scenes in which two of its 16-year-old actresses were asked to bare their breasts for the camera. The film received recognition for inventive, non-traditional cinematography at the Czechoslovak domestic "Workers' Film Festival" in 1986, which was more a result of how its objective compared to other Slovak and Czech films than of any fundamentally exacting camerawork. Its potential TV repeats hit a snag for political reasons when Robo Grigorov defected to Belgium in 1988.
Plot summary
The closely interlinked and intercut stories of several mid-teen friends from a high-rise neighborhood touch, but do not act upon each other. The three central characters, Zuzana (Eva Vejmělková, voice Zuzana Skopálová), Olino (Jiří Bábek, voice Tibor Frlajs, singing Vašo Patejdl), and Bela (Katarína Šugárová, voice Zuzana Tučková) are 15 and about to finish their 9th grade. In the Czechoslovak educational system, students had to decide at that point whether to apply for a preparatory high school or continue their education in vocational schools.
The sisters Zuzana and Maja (Jana Svobodová, voice Tatiana Kulíšková, singing Silvia Slivová) live comfortably with their overconcerned teacher mother (Sylvia Turbová), a trait offset at times by her being almost their adult girlfriend, and their pilot father (Vladimír Kratina, voice Ivan Romančk) whose continual absence is compensated by his exceptional understanding for his daughters' vagaries.
Zuzana, with a letter of acceptance from a prep school in hand, is in love with Olino, whose goal is a vocational school for car mechanics, a career, her mother tells her on more than one occasion, unsuitable for Zuzana's future partner.
Maja, already in prep school and nicknamed "Impossible," has a crush on a new fine arts high-schooler neighbor (André Vácha, a non-speaking role), who turns out to have reciprocated all along when, toward the end of the film, he leaves his sculpture of her head outside her apartment.
Olino plays the guitar, would like to be a musician, almost wins an audition with an emerging band, but is turned down when he admits that he could not afford to buy the needed equipment.
Olino's father (Slavo Záhradník) used to be a respected construction worker who built a long-defunct fountain by the apartment block where the local teens meet, but has been ruined by drinking since his wife's death in childbirth of Olino's younger brother Števo (Marek Bezoušek). Their household fares better than expected thanks to Olino's jovial grandfather (Ferdinand Krůta, voice Elo Romančík), who reveals the father's better past to Olino in the second half of the film. Olino comes up with a project to make the fountain work again, to which the father responds and slams the door in his drunkard friends' (Ján Géc and Miroslav Igaz) faces when they show up for another round of cards and beer.
Bela's application for prep school was rejected, and she has resigned herself to becoming a hairdresser like her sister (Eva Gregáňová). Their widowed mother (Dagmar Pušová) admonishes Bela not to add to their joint household's woes by also following the older sister in becoming a single mother.
Bela loses her virginity to biker Viki (Robo Grigorov) and commences to talk Zuzana into starting to have sex too. When Zuzana and Olino, about to make love, are caught by her parents, Olino runs away, and Zuzana, disappointed in him, begins to hang out on the wilder side with Bela's biker friends. Džeri (Edo Krajčír, voice Štefan Skrúcaný, singing Vašo Patejdl) tries forcefully to have sex with Zuzana in a remote location, she escapes, and Olino picks her up by the road at daybreak when, despite himself, he looks for her, because Maja was worried by Zuzana's late-night absence. Olino and Zuzana dance and kiss in the spurting fountain, which he and his father have just finished repairing.
In the final black-and-white scene, as if from one of the photographs Števo would take in order to observe and comment on the neighborhood, Zuzana, in prep school by now, and car-mechanic apprentice Olino run into each other by the once-again defunct fountain, say hello, and move on.
Screenplay
The screenplay was updated from the novel Fontána pre Zuzanu (A Fountain for Zuzana, 1971) by Eleonóra Gašparová, targeted at middle-school girls. The central characters were made one to two years older in the film, which enabled the filmmakers to sexualize them and the actresses. In the novel, Maja muses that all "movies are almost the same, people get undressed in all of them," a sentence that did not make it to the script. Karol Hlávka added a whiff of worldly glamor by making their father a pilot, his own father's hobby before he was born, a job that opened up the horizons, although not the story, beyond the constrained travel options under communism. He also built up Olino's family's dysfunctionality by leaving his sober mother our of the screenplay. While the story was altered, Gašparová's novel remained the only intracultural source of any significance in the finished film.
In his late 20s, Hlávka was the youngest screenwriter for the Koliba, Bratislava, studios. He later commented on a factor that made the film less socially critical than commonly lauded films finished under communism, and more successful commercially than almost any domestic production. Hlávka spoke of that period in his life as a time when he was forgetting about his deep dissatisfaction with communism and instead of being critical, found himself alongside those who did not see such an attitude as a betrayal of one's ideals. Another factor that shaped the screenplay was director Dušan Rapoš's production goal.
Hlávka's first literary-narative screenplay, which absorbed some of the occasional pensive elements of Gašparová's fiction, was finished more than a year before filming, but its designated director Rapoš pushed its approval process back in favor of another project and returned to Fountain for Suzanne toward the end of 1984. During work on the dialogues and pre-production, Rapoš scaled down Hlávka's dose of sentiment and gave up some cohesion in the storyline in favor of a structure modeled on musical video clips, which began to appear about five years earlier and were mostly known in Bratislava from Austrian television. Rapoš also de-emphasized psychologizing nuances in the characters to facilitate their employment as transitions between an increased number of musical sequences, which make up almost 50% of the film. Hlávka later said that his own intention for the film was less slickness and more reality.
Director
Dušan Rapoš dropped out of journalism in 1975 and after a two-year hiatus began to study film and theater directing at the University of Performing Arts in Bratislava. His first films were documentaries. Fountain for Suzanne was his second feature film, after the children's tale The False Prince (Falošný princ, 1985). The Koliba studios had certain qualms about reassigning him to work on Fountain for Suzanne, which he had postponed in favor of the poorly reviewed fairy tale. Rapoš prevailed, and the final shape and success of Fountain for Suzanne was largely the result of his vision of the film, which also resulted in some rewrites of the screenplay, but his attempt to include his own music in the film fell through. Rapoš's filmmaking drew on Western models, Karol Hlávka mentioned Saturday Night Fever (dir. John Badham, 1977) that reached Czechoslovakia's theaters in 1979, with a single potential nod, although not a resemblance, to The Sun in a Net (Slnko v sieti, dir. Štefan Uher, 1963) respected by filmmakers and critics as a milestone in Slovak and Czechoslovak cinema. A central character in Fountain for Suzanne is also a teenager called Bela (as she was in the novel), and the young characters also find refuge in an isolated location by the Danube. With Fountain for Suzanne's pedigree, the parallel melds with irony, but the divergent filmic and narrative treatment of the location was also indicative of the more than two decades that separated the two films.
Still shunned by critics, Rapoš went on to become the highest-earning Slovak filmmaker in the 1990s mainly thanks to his two sequels Fountain for Suzanne 2 and 3, although in the open and diversified market after the collapse of communism, they did not acquire the same status in youth pop culture as the first film.
Casting
The dominance of dubbed roles was due to casting, whose main goal was to find good-looking teenagers, which meant that few of them had acting experience. The additional reason was linguistic. 32-year-old Dušan Rapoš discovered his 16-year-old muse, Eva Vejmělková (both said later that it was love at first sight, the two eventually married), at an arts high school in Ostrava in the Czech-speaking part of Czechoslovakia, and brought more non-actors and actors from there with no capacity to give a convincing reading of the Slovak dialogue. Robo Grigorov was a rising rebel rock star who offered himself to the filmmakers naturally. Among the singing voices, Vašo Patejdl was an experienced singer, musician, and college-trained composer from the still-popular group Elán, the female singers were brought in through chance encounters and recommendations. Vilma Jamnická in a minor role was a grand dame of Slovak theater with marginal roles in film.
The art school students' training complemented by their immersion in the film industry with Fountain for Suzanne helped several of them start acting careers. Vejmělková, with previous film exposure, continued to star in films directed by Rapoš and had mostly minor roles in several other films. A more limited number of smaller roles opened up for Jana Svobodová and Jiří Bábek. André Vícha actually became a sculptor (medalist), and little Kristína Schreiberová grew up to become a recognized photographer. Vašo Patejdl and Robo Grigorov continued their succesful musical ventures, Edo Krajčír, a founder of Slovakia's and Czechoslovakia's first breakdance group Gumení chlapci (Rubber, i.e., bouncy-flexible, Boys), remained involved with break dance.
Note: Mattielighová's last name was slightly misspelled in the final credits and consequently in all references to the cast and her role.
Director Dušan Rapoš (*1953)
Screenplay Karol Hlávka (*1955)
Book Eleonóra Gašparová (*1925)
Cinematography Vladimír Ješina (*1927)
Music Vašo Patejdl (*1954)
Editing Maximilián Remeň (*1927)
Costumes Ľudmila Várossová (*1956)
Makeup Anton Gendiar (*1930)
Language Slovak, 2 Czech sentences
Running time 1h 21'
Release date 20 March 1986
   
Characters Cast
Zuzana Petrová Eva Vejmělková (*1969)
Zuzana Petrová (voice) Zuzana Skopálová (*1966)
Maja Petrová, older sister Jana Svobodová (*1969)
Maja Petrová (voice) Tatiana Kulíšková (*1961)
Maja Petrová (singing) Silvia Slivová
Mária Petrová, mom, teacher Sylvia Turbová (*1947)
Mr. Peter, father, pilot Vladimír Kratina (*1952)
Mr. Peter (voice) Ivan Romančík (*1950)
Olino Zrubec Jiří Bábek (*1965)
Olino Zrubec (voice) Tibor Frlajs (*1959)
Olino Zrubec (singing) Vašo Patejdl (*1954)
Števo Zrubec, brother Marek Bezoušek
Mr. Zrubec, grandfather Ferdinand Krůta (*1920)
Mr. Zrubec, gf. (voice) Elo Romančík (*1922)
Mr. Zrubec, father Slavo Záhradník (1937-1999)
Bela Strinková Katarína Šugárová
Bela Strinková (vocie) Zuzana Tlučková (*1962)
Darina Strinková, older sister Eva Gregáňová
Darina's baby Michaela Ruttkayová
Mrs. Strinková, mother Dagmar Pušová
"Picasso," sculpture student André Vícha (*1966)
Viki, Bela's boyfriend, biker Robo Grigorov (*1964)
Viki (bike stunts) Tibor Straka
Džeri, breakdancer, biker Edo Krajčír
Džeri (voice) Štefan Skrúcaný (*1960)
Džeri (singing) Vašo Patejdl (*1954)
Peggi, biker Denisa Mattielighová
Deni, biker Ivan Bališ
Bohuš, Olino's friend Ondřej Malý (*1966)
Bohuš (voice) Peter Mišík
Mr. Domorák, snooper Miloslav Holub (1915-1999)
Mr. Domorák (voice) Andrej Mojžiš (*1925)
Cilka, chatty neighbor Vilma Jamnická (1906-2008)
Milka, chatty neighbor Libuše Šedivá
Kristínka, little girl Kristína Schreiberová (*1979)
Card player I Ján Géc (*1929)
Card player II Miroslav Igaz (*1938)
Band leader at audition Ján Hangoni
Flight attendant Sylvia Sarlósová

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fountain for Suzanne (1986) clip.

 

 

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