Unveiling the Behind-the-Scenes of ‘Girlfriends from the House of Sorrow’
From Pages to Screens
In May 1981, renowned Czech writer Eva Kantůrková found herself in the clutches of the law. Her crime was undermining the republic through her book of interviews with dissidents, ‘Sešly jsme se,’ published abroad in France. For ten months, Kantůrková was held in investigative custody in Ruzyně, a period that she would later recount in her book ‘Přítelkyně z domu smutku’ or ‘Girlfriends from the House of Sorrow.’ The book serves as an eye-opening account of her journey and life in prison, shedding light on the investigative approach and non-standard methods used.
Initially published in Germany, the book found its way back to Czechoslovakia after the revolution. But it didn’t end there. Two years later, Kantůrková’s profound narrative was brought to life in a four-part mini-series directed by Hynek Bočan. The mini-series, however, was a hard pill to swallow for some due to its raw and truthful representation of the psychological and physical terror endured by women in prison.
Radio Adaptation and Audiobook
Not only was it adapted into a mini-series, but ‘Girlfriends from the House of Sorrow’ also made its way to the radio, narrated by Jana Štěpánková. The eleven-part radio series was later released as an audiobook. Kantůrková shared her insights on the process, stating that adapting a novel into a screenplay was akin to transitioning into an entirely different art form.
The Challenges of Filming
For the cast – Ivana Chýlková, Helena Růžičková, Jiřina Bohdalová, and Yvetta Blanarovičová – and the crew, filming was an uphill battle. The series was mainly shot in Pankrác prison, a setting that left an indelible mark on everyone involved. The series also boasted a star-studded cast of well-known actresses.
The filming process was exceptionally grueling for Chýlková. Her efforts, however, did not go unnoticed as she clinched the Grand Gold Prize for female acting performance at the Cannes MTF in 1994 for her role in the series.
But it wasn’t just the emotional toll that proved challenging. There were practical issues too, such as prisoners shouting during filming and a Bulgarian mafia group discussing their interrogation responses. At one point, the safety of the actors and the crew was even threatened when a Bulgarian prisoner set his cell ablaze.
A Resounding Success
Despite the trials and tribulations, the series turned out to be a resounding success. It enjoyed both high viewership and critical acclaim, bagging the Grand Silver Prize in Cannes. The story of ‘Girlfriends from the House of Sorrow’ stands as a testament to the courage and determination of those who dared to speak out against oppressive regimes. It also underscores the importance of preserving and sharing their narratives for posterity.
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