FILMING IN PRAGUE: THE BARRANDOV STUDIOS
In the course of the later four decades, Prague has been favored by European and American film directors as a universally beautiful and eclectic city, capable of depicting a variety of roles. It has played herself in myriad Czech movies and TV series since the 1930s and in more recent Hollywood projects: Mission: Impossible (1996), XXX (2002), Blade II (2002), Casino Royale (2006). With the same elegance, Prague played the role of Vienna in Amadeus (1983) and The Illusionist (2006); Paris in Les Misérables (1998); London in From Hell (2001); Budapest in Van Helsing (2004); Munich in Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003); London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin in Eurotrip (2004); Warsaw in The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016). Dozens of projects were created here and took no advantage of the streets of Prague while focusing the production process in the studio in the Southern suburbs. The astounding open-air and magnificent close pavilions once became a production home for Stalingrad (1993), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Hart’s War (2002), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Hellboy (2004), the Brothers Grimm (2005), Doom (2005), Jojo Rabbit (2019).
The history of the Barrandov Studios hearkens back in history to 1921, when Czech entrepreneur Miloš Havel decided to expand his business based on the distribution of American movies in Europe. He founded his own production studios on the site of the former brewery on the Southern periphery of Prague. A few years later the outbreak of the sound cinema brought Miloš Havel to an ambitious expansion of the production facilities and the new Barrandov Studios were inaugurated as early as 1933. With a staff of 300 men and women and the most recent technical achievements, it was to become the best-equipped film studios in Europe, which soon attracted Paramount, MGM, and UFA to work in the Czech Republic. With the onset of WWII, the Germans took the studio, significantly expanded it (they added 3,400 m2 of shooting space), and shot at least 80 propaganda films here until 1945. After the occupation, the studio was never returned to the Havel family but was nationalized for the next forty years until the fall of communism in 1989. It is worth noting, that the studio was on the edge of bankruptcy in 2000, but prevailed thanks in large part to the Hollywood movies such as ‘The Bourne Identity’.
ARRIVAL TO ZURICH
Leaving apart the short sequence supposed to take place in the CIA headquarters in the United States, the movie begins with the story of Jason Bourne in the open sea. The fishermen from the boat called AVENTURA IM 1136 take care of the man with two bullets in his back while fishing in the Mediterranean sea. There is no mention of their final destination, yet the Italian flag brings the understanding that the protagonist is far away from the bay of Marcele, where he had been wounded. Imperia town in North-Western Italy, halfway between French Nice and Italian Genova, and the capital of the province of the same name Imperia was to become the filming location for Jason’s arrival sequence. Though it is easier to come across the tourist than the fisherman today in Imperia, the town of only 45 000 inhabitants, its harbor has been for centuries an integral part of life. In the first shot with the boat coming to the shore, the schooner drifts by Campo da Gioco, a narrow strip of land with a distinctive ‘Faro Molo di Levante’ lighthouse. Bourne goes ashore on the narrow ‘Calata Giovanni Battista Cuneo’ street, named after Italian politician, journalist, and patriot. This is the favorite tourist area for those who come to the quay for freshly cooked fish and a bottle of wine in one of the local restaurants.
Since the revealing of the hidden address, Jason’s only objective is to cover the distance between the Mediterranean climate of North Italy and the cold winter of Central Europe and Zurich. When we see Matt Damon on the train, it is also easy to recognize the ‘TGV: Train à Grande Vitesse’ logo on the seats. It is a French transport company, one of the largest in Europe. When it comes to the real route between Imperia and Zurich, at least today it would demand one change in Milan and around 7 hours in total to cover the distance by means of the local lines Trenitalia: no TGV on this line. After the short sequence, Jason finds himself at the Zurich train station. It is important to understand, that the ‘The Bourne Identity’ filming crew never visited Switzerland for shooting, and every scene in ‘Zurich’ in the movie was, in fact, filmed in Prague, Czech Republic. The station we see is the Praha Hlavní Nádraží: Prague Main Station. The location has a colorful filming experience in a way of playing roles of the other European capitals. The old section of the station played a role in the Vienna depot in Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003), Paris in Eurotrip (2004), and Budapest in ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ (2011).
The kind-hearted fisherman gave Jason some money for his journey to Zurich, yet evidently not enough for renting a stay for a cold winter night. We can see the motionless protagonist standing on the deserted snow-covered street in ‘Zurich’. As a matter of fact, the scene was filmed on 17. listopadu street in the center of Prague, not far away from the Vltava river, the Manesuv bridge (‘Ghost protocol’ car drowning scene) and Rudolfinum concert hall (another set from the ‘Eurotrip’ and ‘Hitler: The Rise of Evil’). The street was once named due to two historical events significant for Prague and the Czech Republic. On the night of November 17, 1939, the Nazis, who had previously taken the country in Spring, arrested a thousand students and teachers, the participants of the protest march, and all the universities were closed until the end of the War. Exactly fifty years after the event, on November 17, 1989, another demonstration launched the fall of the communist regime: the well-known ‘Velvet revolution (Sametová Revoluce).
If we take a closer look at the location with the motionless Bourne, it is the crossroad of 17. listopadu and Na Rejdišti streets. The building on the left is the ‘Faculty of Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering’ (Fakulta jaderná a fyzikálně inženýrská ČVUT) under Czech Technical University in Prague. The faculty was initiated in 1955 to support the Soviet nuclear program with specialists from Eastern Europe. The complex of buildings accommodates the whole city block between 17. listopadu, Na Rejdišti, Břehová, and Dvořákovo nábř streets. On the right, we can see the wall of the park, as it may look in regard to the following scene with a sleeping Jason. In fact, this is the fence of the old Jewish cemetery. The oldest grave here has a date of 1439 and the total number of burials, layer by layer, is 100 000. Beyond the frame to the right is the ‘Uměleckoprůmyslové museum’ (Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague), established as far back as 1885. Taking a look at the map of Prague, it would take approximately an hour to get here from the main train station.
A BENCH IN THE PARK
The previous sequence with the motionless Bourne on the street is followed by a scene in the park. Two policemen wearing a uniform of the Switzerland police address the sleeping man in German and get a bash on the bonce from the trained CIA agent. As the filming crew never visited Switzerland, it is easy to guess that the scene was filmed in Prague, within the most recognizable recreational area called Kampa Park, located on the artificial island of the same name 600 meters in length and 100 in width. I have already paid detailed attention to the history of this icon-like place in Prague in the article devoted to ‘Mission Impossible’ filming locations in Prague.
Kampa Island could be conventionally divided into two parts. The one closer to the Charles bridge is another legendary historical landmark with dense cultural development. The nearby area made its appearance in ‘Mission Impossible’ (1996), Van Helsing (2004), and Eurotrip (2004), whilst the Southern part of Kampa island is dominated by the park, a favorite place for walking among both the locals and the tourists. In a moment when the two policemen wake up Bourne, one could see not only the Vltava river behind their backs but also the Northern part of the Střelecký Ostrov (Střelecký island). The island of only 3 hectares today, has a long history of changing its surface space due to the flows of Vltava. The very first mention of the island could be traced back to the XII century, royal ownership at that time. Later on, just another ruler gave the island to the archers (‘Strelec’ in Czech) of Prague, which would later give the location its modern name.
When Jason disarms the Swiss policemen, we can recognize a statue behind the bench, one among dozens of statues on Kampa island. The figure of a woman is a good destination point for those who want to find the exact location of this ‘The Bourne Identity’ filming location in Prague. In the next few seconds with Jason running, the Divadlo Kampa (Kampa Theater) may be seen in the far background of the park. It is true that this modern theater has accommodated the place since 2010, yet back in 2001 during the shooting of ‘The Bourne Identity’ the building housed another theater. In fact, this complex of buildings on Kampa island has been favored by a number of theaters since the XIX century: Malé Nostic Theater, Nablízko Theater, and Čertovka Theater. As an epilogue for this location, it is worth mentioning that the Kampa park in Prague is accessible twenty-four hours a day in contrast to the ‘Zurich’ park in the movie.
THE ZURICH PANORAMA
Followed by another brief journey to Langley, Virginia, which was in fact filmed elsewhere, we get back to Zurich, and, in fact, to the streets of Prague. The next scene is cultivated by a tram moving downstreet across the city, which is clearly recognizable as the heart of the Czech Republic. The far background represents one of the two towers of the Charles bridge on the Western bank of Vltava. If trying to identify the exact place from which the panorama was taken, we come to Pod Bruskou street, actually the crossroad with Chotkova. Pod Bruskou street is well-known among the Czechs for its long and involved history. It is named after the underground spring called Bruska, which flows underground nearby. The street has been known since the Middle Ages, yet centuries ago it was so narrow that the locals had used to call it a ‘Mousehole’. As late as the XVII century the stream was widened and renamed.
The white complex of buildings in the close left corner of the panorama accommodates several hotels, whilst the large pink one on the right is known as ‘Dum U Verdugu’ (Richter House). This distinctive building is recognizable due to its three-axis risalit, a part of a building that juts out from the front sideline, which faces Pod Bruskou street. The building up was initiated as far back in time as 1826 on the site of the former wineyard. The Northern wing facing Chotkova would be added two decades later. This example of classicist architecture became a national monument in 1958 and since 1992 has been under the protection of UNESCO. Getting back to the previous location in Kampa park, the distance from the bench to the current location is roughly one kilometer.
The next remarkable and recognizable location could be found at a notable distance, which is worth noting as a peculiar fact of the filming topography. We see Jason, who is evidently regretting his decision to throw away the winter coat. In fact, the man without it can provoke much more suspicion when it comes to the police. The paced snowy panorama shows us the building with the credits: GEMEINSCHAFT BANK, Zurich, Switzerland. Actually, we have got nowhere from Prague, and the location is Politických vězňů (Street of Political Prisoners) not far away from the main train station. When it comes to history the building supposed to be the Swiss bank was once indeed a bank, yet a Czech one.
In Czech it is known as the “Czech Petschkův palác” (Petschek Palace) or ‘Pečkárna’ (Bakery) and it is located at the intersection of Politických vězňů (Street of Political Prisoners) and Washingtonova (Washington street). This neoclassicist building was built between 1923 and 1929 at the request of the local banker Julius Petschek and gained an original naming after its owner as ‘Bankhaus Petschek & Co.’ (The Bank House Petschek and Co.). In contrast to its historical appearance, the new building was initially complemented with some of the finest assessments of the early XX century: the sophisticated heating and conditioning system, the multi-channel telephone line, its own typography, an elevator, and a large vault. During the Nazi occupation of Prague, this building was a seat for the local Gestapo office, the infamous secret police, who used to torture people inside the Petschek Palace. It was these dark pages in history, which would give the naming to the street: ‘Politických vězňů’ (Street of Political Prisoners). Nowadays, the former palace is a home for the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the memorial plate on the corner of the building serves as a reminder. A national cultural monument since 1989.
In a sequence when Jason Bourne is leaving GEMEINSCHAFT BANK with a red bag full of disturbing findings, the expanded panorama of the Petschek Palace is grasping a few more remarkable buildings. The classic building in the background is the State Opera House, dated 1883. A little further on the right, one could recognize the building of the New National Museum, a former Stock Exchange added with a monumental addition. Both monumental buildings are located at arm’s end of the Prague train station, the very first filming location in the city for Bourne, as well as next to the Main building of the National Museum, another iconic-like filming location for Mission Impossible (1996, the scene of the embassy interior), ‘Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003, the scene of the marching stormtroopers), Eurotrip (2004, inside the Vatican), Casino Royale (2006, the lobby of the Venetian hotel).
LOSING THE TAIL
The next short scene after Jason’s ‘departure’ from the bank, is worth attention in regard to the city topography, particularly the crossroad of Politických vězňů and Opletalova, just next to Petschek Palace. The movie shows us, Jason, while crossing the street from the bank on the diagonal, thus supposing the location of the telephone booth as across the road at Politických vězňů 19 or 21. Apart from the fact that there is no telephone here, Bourne crosses the street one more time in the same direction. We even could recognize the address: Politických vězňů 19. I want to stress this peculiar detail one more time: Matt Damon crossed the same street two times consequently.
Seconds later, we see Bourne from the front and the State Opera House in the far background. He is having an unexpected encounter with two policemen at the crossroad of Politických vězňů and Opletalova while turning onto the latter. A few dozen of meters later, Jason makes a stop upon hearing the sound of the passing ambulance car. The building with a yellow front side has the plate in German: DIE ZWEI HUNDE (TWO DOGS), added during the shooting to remind us about Zurich and Switzerland. In actual terms, there is no restaurant of such name in Prague and there was not at the time of the shooting, and the current building at Opletalova 28 accommodates the Arab kebab house called Barakat Lebanon restaurant. Speaking on Opletalova street, being known since the Middle ages, in 1952 it was renamed after Jan Opletal (1915-1939), a Czech student who was killed during the anti-Nazi protests.
THE US EMBASSY AND MARIE
We follow Jason while he crosses the street from DIE ZWEI HUNDE. This time the movie, in fact, takes us to another location in Prague, 300 meters to the North-West. The protagonist once again follows the Politických vězňů street, though at a distance from the Petschek Palace. In contrast to the street sign near the supposed bank, in the current scene, the filming crew had done a good job with details, which made Prague look more like Zurich. They replaced the Politických vězňů and Jindrisska street plates with the two in German: Zalsman Weg and Bahnhof str. respectively. ZURICH POST was another distinctive sign on the left as well as BAHNHOF (Train station in German) on the tram front glass. Actually, the scene was filmed at the crossroad of Politických vězňů and Jindrisska streets, while Jason goes in the direction of Panska street, a site of the following location.
Panska is a cozy street only 300 meters in length, which has changed its naming a number of times since the XIV century. It is worth mentioning that the street is indeed home to two embassies: Brazil and Argentina. Bourne notices the US flag as well as U.S. citizens only sign and gets inside the building with a magnificent arched entrance. Though the interior scenes were not shot here, the building at Panska 7, known as Kounický palác itself deserves attention. The very first version of the palace on the site appeared as far back as the XVII century, later rebuilt a number of times, taking the Baroque elements all the way up to the latest reconstruction in the 1990s. Since 1998 the Southern wing of the building facing Panska street has been accommodating the Muchovo Muzeum (Mucha Museum in Prague), devoted to the life and works of the famous Czech artist. The palace is often used for balls, concerts, exhibitions, and wedding ceremonies.
As a matter of fact, the arched gates, which Jason takes advantage of to get inside the U.S. embassy, in fact, open in the inner courtyard of the complex of buildings. A few viewers are aware that one more location was used to depict the exterior sequence with Bourne while leaving the embassy. What I mean here is the scene, where Jason finds himself in the open, drops the bag on the snow, and goes down to the ground. This sequence was filmed roughly 500 meters to the North-East from Panska 7, in the courtyard of the CARLO IV HOTEL at Senovážné náměstí 13. It is not a challenge to get close by means of a small arch to the right of the hotel or to look upon the distinctive wall from the street. Carlo IV Hotel may be more recognizable as a stopping place for the schoolchildren from Manhattan in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ (2019). The building was initially owned by The Mortgage Bank of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which moved here in 1890. The location next to the Crop Exchange and the two railway stations in Prague was not accidental. In the years from 1945 to 1989, the headquarters of the International Postal Transport owned the building, and in the 1990s it was finally turned into a luxurious hotel with 152 suites.
Followed by a brief scene with Conklin, we get ourselves one more time back to Panska street. Jason gets encountered Marie Kreutz and offers her money for getting him to Paris. The scene was staged on the narrow V CIPU street, actually an alley of only 90 meters in length across the road from the supposed Embassy. The pedestrians could get through to the neighboring Jindrisska, yet the cars meet the blind alley. The alley gained its modern name as late as 1896 while being a part of Prague since the XIV century. It is interesting to note that Marie and Jason are having a chat only a few dozen meters from Panska 7, where dozens of armed men are supposed to chase Jason. The building is recognizable behind Bourne.
THE FRENCH MANSION
Apart from the opening sequence in Italy and Prague, the first movie in the series spends an hour of screen time in Paris. With the unexpected results of the investigation, Jason and Maria make a decision to leave the French capital and take hide in the house of Marie’s old friend. In a moment, when we visit the Treadstone headquarters, the map of Europe on the wall gives us a clue of the following location: the French town of Nevers, approximately 200 kilometers to the South of Paris. When it comes to reality, all scenes around Eamon’s villa were filmed in the Czech Republic on the outskirts of Prague. The area is known as Tiché údolí and it is a natural reserve (since 1951) of approximately 110 ha to the North of Prague. I myself was happy enough to get here by means of the city bus + 30 minutes of walk.
The cinematic reality may create an impression that the villa is located among other farms of that kind, yet it is the only one in this valley, though at arm’s end from the village. In actual geographical terms, Tiché údolí reflects the North edge of Prague’s extensive agglomeration as well as the borders of the national reserves. The complex erection, which looks like a farm, is known as ‘Trojanuv mlýn’ (Trojan Mill). The very first mills on this spot became a reality as far back as the XII century, one of them had the water wheel. As early as the XIV century the initial erections had been demolished to leave space for the stone mill. For the next few centuries, the area would be in the ownership of St. George’s Monastery in Prague. Benedictines monks added it with two water wheels and a fish farm to supply the monastery. In 1730 the mill was bought by the Trojanova family, who would own the property for the next century until the new owner reconstructed the mill in 1858. Already in 1922, the new owner changed the nature of the historical site into a restaurant, though preserving the name ‘Trojanuv’ after the former owners.
As early as the 1940s the new owner reshaped the historical area one more time for renting, and ‘Trojanuv mlýn’ has slightly changed since that. The one water mill was preserved as a commemoration. Another owner took great advantage of the agricultural area nearby. It was this field, where the characters played by Matt Damon and Clive Owen would hunt each other. At present, the field indeed looks like a hunting ground. Getting back to history, the ruins of the XIX century barn opposite the main villa is the oldest preserved part of the historical mill, which is still accessible. The owners have also preserved the old wooden doors, the barns on the right, and the elements of the interior. The mill and the barns have been cultural monuments since 2003, though the enclosure wall and the gate are not. In the course of the past decades, a number of Czech movies and TV series took advantage of the location, leaving Jason Bourne the most recognizable guest from Hollywood. Nowadays, anyone could rent the mill for a ceremonial event, for example, a wedding.
Apart from the villa and all its historical landmarks, you may also walk across and around the field, a place of the CIA duel between Jason Bourne and the Professor. The hill, a site of the sniper’s position in a movie, is also accessible.