Gangsters, Helena and Me.

Director and actress Petra Nesvačilová on her new movie HELENA’S LAW

HELENA’S LAW

Four years ago, I was looking for a topic that would allow me best reflect on a female protagonist. I was sitting in the kitchen with my friend, actress Hanka Vágnerová, who was at the time working on the Organised Crime Unit series, and she told me: “Do you know Helena? She’s the one you’re looking for – she’s totally cool and incredibly brave!”

So I started to shoot a portrait of Helena Kahnová, a former elite detective of the Czech Unit for Combating Organised Crime, who, together with her colleague Tomáš Gregor, uncovered the “Berdych gang” and put about 50 dangerous criminals behind the bars. I met Helena over a cup of coffee in Dejvice. I sat opposite a very charming woman recounting her extraordinary story. She joined the police ranks when she was 23. During the 1990s, following the liberation of our country from the communist regime, the criminality unfortunately also started thriving. Helena gradually got involved in the “Berdych gang” case. After seven years of blackmailing, threats and nerve-racking situations – Helena was thirty and had a small kid – they managed to drive the whole gang behind the bars. But that was not the end.

My research revealed more and more surprising information on how complicated the entire case had been. I discovered an efficiently functioning underworld permeating even the topmost layers of the political system. It immediately occurred to me how dangerous my film was and that this fact could also be reflected in its title. I met Janek Kroupa,  an investigative journalist, who focused on the “Berdych gang” case. He told me: “Why don’t you go and get a peek of the underworld to have an idea of who Helena’s adversaries were.” The film had been structured as a short portrait of Helena Kahnová who is speaking about her “dangerous” experience, telling stories from the underworld. Her narration opened up new and interesting perspectives – presenting a woman in a men’s world, exploring the origin of evil and whether we are capable of stopping it. Together with the film’s producer, we decided to try to get hold of the members of the “Berdych gang”. And that was when things got going!


HELENA’S LAW

“I had no clue why Gunner started questioning me.”

I first contacted a guy nicknamed Gunner. We fixed an appointment in the famous Slavia café renowned in the 1990s era. Me and the producer were both scared and we were scanning everyone who walked in the door. We made sure the meeting took place in daytime in a crowded café. Out of fear we put on a bright red lipstick – women have their own fear-coping strategies. Several hours later, we received a text: “I won’t make it today, let’s meet tomorrow, I’ll let you know.” Alright, so it was not over yet... The meeting was postponed to the next day. On our way to meet him, Gunner called me on my phone and started questioning me – what was the whole thing about? Was it a police set-up? It was all very confusing. I told him if he didn’t want to meet, us I would respect that, but in the end he said OK – he was coming. We ended up in a pizzeria. I was scared as hell, but pretended it was all cool not to freak the producer out. And I realised that this was what Helena must have been going through for seven long years, and I couldn’t wrap my head around that. One probably gets used to it over the years, but that was not very consoling... Gunner – who was also known to the underworld as the Torturer – walked in the door! He looked like a 1990s movie character. He was wearing a shell suit. He was all covered in tattoos, had a very deep voice and a slight lisp. He was scrutinising us suspiciously the whole time. And again, he wanted to know what it was all about.

“Well, I want you in my film.”

“Why?”

“Because you used to do robberies and torture people and I would like to find out if a person like you can change.”

“Bullshit,” he retorted, “I’m not gonna be in any damn film, I’ve just gotten out of prison and have to get my shit together.”

And he left. It took us a year and a half to persuade him to shoot with us. Over the four years, we met quite a few gangsters who were always bringing up new themes and topics. And so we made a film in which I play the role of a narrator mapping out the motivations and morals of these villains.