Tribute to Boleslav Polívka 

Boleslav Polívka

Who would have guessed back in the early 1970s that the student who was “always on the verge of being thrown out”, according to his teachers at Brno’s Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, would become one of the best known figures on the Czech cultural scene? A celebrity who elicits a smile whenever his name is mentioned?


Boleslav Polívka’s graduation role was the preposterous eccentric in Ladislav Smoček’s play Dr Burke’s Strange Afternoon, in which he then excelled for several decades at Prague’s Drama Club (Činoherní klub). It was here that he had the opportunity to apply his spontaneity and exceptional improvisational talent – scintillating, playful and resourceful. It’s an inexhaustible talent as well: he used it to enhance characters he portrayed at Brno’s Goose on a String Theatre in his internationally renowned mime performances and slapstick comedies (Am and Ea, Pépe, The Castaway, The Last Trap, The Jester and the Queen), and he continues to harness this gift in his own productions at the Bolek Polívka Theatre (DNA, The Jester and the Son, The Tick), where he also appears together with his daughter Anna and son Vladimír.

Although his stage work is dominated by comic turns inspired by the approaches of commedia dell’arte or the situation gags and comic moves of film slapstick, from somewhere deep down comes the impulse that summons more profound reflection. His heroes are not the kind to bask in the limelight; they are more likely to be outsiders, fragile and vulnerable people who have to show a measure of obstinacy to find moments of happiness in life, and who often fool around in order to mask their anxiety. The same may be said of many characters Polívka has played on the big screen. It’s amazing to think that, beginning with his appearance in the legendary Ballad for a Bandit (1978), he has created around seventy roles to date, a figure which doesn’t even include his television films and series! Some of his most distinguished and most important work has resulted from his enduring collaboration with Jan Hřebejk and, in particular, with Věra Chytilová, who directed him in five films. Here we will find other aspects of Polívka’s acting skills which do not draw on his instinctive zaniness. A prime example of his ability to create serious dramatic characters is his Czech Lion award-winning role as the priest in Vladimír Michálek’s film Forgotten Light (1996).

Naturally, the sum of the above-mentioned endeavours, which could fill the space of several lifetimes, is not sufficient to satisfy Polívka’s creativity. In addition to his numerous ventures in the infamous, fictional “Kingdom of Wallachia”, for over thirty years he hosted his own TV comedy talk show, Boleslav Polívka’s Arena, where he would also appear with special guests in various études, giving free rein to his infectious vitality and explosive talent. Bolek, as he is affectionately known, is a charismatic individual who sends out wave upon wave of positive energy wherever he goes.

Zdena Škapová

  • Forgotten Light Zapomenuté světlo / Zapomenuté světlo
    Directed by: Vladimír Michálek
    Czech Republic, 1996, 108 min

    Czech-American screenwriter Milena Jelinek shifted Jakub Deml’s novel of the same name to a period fifty years later. Although she didn’t experience the Czechoslovak Normalisation era herself, Jelinek’s vision of the all-pervasive deterioration of the time is accurate down to the last detail. Here Michálek proved himself an accomplished director with a sense of subtle testimony, enhanced by suggestive performances from Boleslav Polívka and the rest of the cast and by a cinematographic eloquence beyond words.


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