Emil Zatopek is a Czech athlete whose name is probably remembered by all those who at least follow athletics. The Czech Locomotive, as he was called, at the 1952 Olympic Games managed to achieve something that no one had done before or since, winning gold medals in the 5 and 10 km races and in the marathon. And the biographical drama simply named after the main protagonist opened the festival in Karlovy Vary, and the experienced David Ondriček received a very impressive budget of 5.5 million dollars for Czech conditions. Although “Zatopek” is not one of those top biographies, it is a good and interesting film that is also a story about a time.
Although Zatopek was at the peak of his form in the forties and fifties, the action begins there in 1968, when Australian runner Ron Clarke arrives in Prague after his disappointment at the Olympics in Mexico. He will look to his friend and role model Zatopek for inspiration and a return to form, and in parallel with their gatherings and conversations in the period when the Czech is already in his late forties, we also follow his life story through flashbacks. And of course it’s a real movie story, an incredible game of fate in which Zatopek started running as a 16-year-old quite by accident.
It was a somewhat strange decision that Zatopek was played from the age of 16 to the age of 46 by the same actor, Vaclav Neužil, who also won the award for Czech actor of the year for this role. In total, “Zatopek” had almost 20 nominations in the selection for the Czech film of the year, winning practically all the most important ones, such as those for best film and direction. All the same, Ondriček did a good job of portraying the historical period, but also Zatopek’s slightly conflicted personality, and he acted wisely in not portraying him as a saint, which is a trap that many people fall into when making such films.
Once he realizes that he is a top runner, over time he will turn into an egoist who thinks only of himself, but that’s probably how it has to be if you want to be the best in any sport. We also see that, thanks to his status and fame, he was able to do what the average Czechoslovaks of his time could not do, and he did not bother too much with the unjust system. He skilfully swam in that crazy system, listened to typical communist slogans that he was not running only for himself, but for the whole nation and the like. His relationship with his wife Dana (Martha Issova), also a successful athlete who sacrificed a lot for his success, is also complex.