DVD Review: Katka

10+ year saga of a drug addict on the streets of Prague



Written and directed by Helena Třeštíková. Featuring Kateřina Bradáčová.

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Note: this week (1.9.2011) sees two new releases in Prague cinemas, both only offered only in Czech-dubbed versions: Zookeeper (showtimes | IMDb), a comedy with Kevin James, and The Lion King 3D (showtimes | IMDb), a 3D revival of the popular 1994 Disney film.

It’s more than likely that I’ve come across Kateřina Bradáčová on the streets of Prague at some point over the last decade. Not that I would have taken much notice: dealers, junkies, pickpockets, prostitutes, and the homeless are all a part of everyday life in the center, particularly in and around Wenceslas Square, which I traversed daily for a number of years.

While other major cities have “cleaned up” their vagrant populations by sweeping them under the carpet, they remain highly visible on the streets of Prague, conspicuous elements to anyone who takes more than a passing glance. Not that many of us do: to the general population, these people have been tuned out, ignored, forgotten.

Katka, a documentary by Helena Třeštíková, gives a name, and more importantly, a face, to one them: Kateřina Bradáčová, a sometimes- petty thief and prostitute and always-junkie who we follow from 1997 to the film’s premiere in late 2009.

In 1997, Kateřina is a 19-year-old leaving a drug rehab center and heading to Prague; over the next few years, she settles into the life of a heroin addict, with all the expected troubles that come with it: she steals, sells herself, lives in a squat, and moves from one unhealthy relationship to another. Despite the access given to the filmmaker, however, day-to-day life is rarely detailed, with Kateřina telling most her story directly to the camera.

In the film’s most gut-wrenching section, Kateřina becomes pregnant and decides to have the baby, planning a life where she kicks the habit and raises a daughter. But she never kicks it; the baby is born addicted to drugs and placed in the care of the state.

Katka sometimes reminded me of another Prague-set documentary, Wiktor Grodecki’s Body Without Soul, a look at gay prostitutes and amateur pornstars in Prague. That film, sensationalistic and raw, blindsided me, and remains unforgettable; in comparison, Katka feels cool and almost ambivalent towards its subject. The matter-of-fact presentation, and lack of any commentary from the filmmakers, creates a slow-burn feeling of unease.

The film frequently raises another issue: that of the relationship between filmmaker and subject. Throughout the movie, Kateřina makes numerous trips to rehab centers, methadone clinics, and doctor’s offices; the help she receives (some of it, we witness, delivered with apathy) is never enough. The filmmakers, charting the downfall of this junkie for a decade-and-a-half, are also in a position to offer assistance; Kateřina’s life has been undoubtedly affected by the director, but their relationship is carefully obscured throughout the movie.

Towards the end of the film, Kateřina’s boyfriend says “I’m scared, Helena,” and we finally hear something from the director as she intervenes in a police confrontation. We’re left to wonder: what actions might she have taken on behalf of her subjects? What effect have they had?

Katka holds special relevance for residents of Prague: most of the scenes take place in instantly-recognizable locations, with Kateřina squatting on the banks on Karlín, scanning crowds at Old Town and Wenceslas Square, shooting up in Josefov alleyways, soliciting outside the National Theater. It’s no longer shocking, but this is a revealing look at one of our long-ignored neighbors.

Image Quality: 7/10

Image quality for a film like this is difficult to assess: Katka was shot on digital video over the course of a decade-and-a-half, and the resulting film looks expectedly rough. But I have little doubt that the anamorphic 16:9 DVD accurately reproduces the theatrical experience.

Only reservation: the 16:9 composition appears too tight at times, as if some of the original shots were composed for 4:3 and later cropped.

Sound Quality: 7/10

Like the image, the sound quality can be rough (Bradáčová, at times, can be almost unintelligible, at least to non-native ears), but this is due to technical limitations during the filmmaking process rather than issues with the DVD mastering.

Interesting sidenote: to capture sound in some scenes, the filmmakers must have used microphones on the bodies of the subjects.

Audio is offered in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. Subtitle options: English, Czech, Slovak, French, and Spanish.

Bonus features: 2/10

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–    Photogallery (14 pictures)
–    Helena Třeštíková filmography (text)
–    Trailer (1:52)


Katka won’t appeal to everyone, and doesn’t break any new documentary ground, but it’s a revealing film, especially relevant for local audiences. Recommended.

Screengrabs (click to view full resolution):

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka

DVD Review: Katka


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