Behind the scenes of Damien Chazelle's Hennessy X.O - Life is the Greatest Odyssey (2023). Photo courtesy Hennessy

Director Damien Chazelle shot an epic 7-minute Hennessy advert in Prague

Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, who made a splash with Whiplash and La La Land before dropping the contentious masterpiece Babylon last year, stopped in Prague in-between Hollywood gigs to shoot an epic seven-minute long advertisement for iconic French cognac producer Hennessy.

The lengthy spot touches on many of Chazelle’s familiar themes, and features a lonely musician wandering through memories inspired by a drop of Hennessy in the streets of the Prague and other locations, which were recreated in local studios.

Hennessy X.O – Life is the Greatest Odyssey also features some iconic Czech locales and artifacts. Early portions of the advert were filmed in the spacious courtyard in front of Prague’s Estates Theatre, where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787. AMC’s Interview with the Vampire had also filmed at the location before pausing production due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

The main character comes across the bust of a giant statue in the courtyard – which was a real-world prop, not a CGI artifact – and also observes a marionette puppet show. Puppetry has a long history in Prague, and the city’s National Marionette Theatre has been staging productions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the past 30 years.

“The film was shot in Prague, a city with a deep history of theater, puppets, and magic. The city of Kafka,” Chazelle told Ad Age.

“I tried to soak it all in because I have a soft spot for the kind of films where you see the seams, the humanity. These films are like puppet theaters, where part of the magic is that you can see the strings and even the puppeteers behind the curtains but that doesn’t stop you from being immersed and invested in the story.”

“In the end, we approached the project like a silent film, a story without a dialogue, just images and music. I tried to pull a trick or two from the silent film playbook and look at how they would have done things back then.”

Director Damien Chazelle at Týnská Bar and Books. Photo courtesy Hennessy
Director Damien Chazelle at Týnská Bar and Books. Photo courtesy Hennessy

The bar scenes in the post were filmed at Bar And Books on Týnská street, a cigar and whisky bar in the city center that is one of the more appropriate venues to enjoy a glass of Hennessy in Prague.

Later scenes in the spot prominently feature an art deco poster for a performance from the Špaček String Quartet. The band is fictional, but violinist Josef Špaček performs with the Czech Philharmonic String Quartet and must have inspired Chazelle or the production designer on the Hennessy advert.

Hennessy X.O – Life is the Greatest Odyssey is not the first Hennessy X.O. advertisement to be shot by an acclaimed filmmaker in Prague. Five years ago, Ridley Scott filmed an advertisement in the same series for Hennessy titled The Seven Worlds.

Unlike Chazelle’s advert, which made use of some of the Czech capital’s real-world locations, Scott’s Hennessy ad was largely filmed at Prague Studios in Letňany. Director Nicolas Winding Refn filmed a previous Hennessy X.O advert in the same series. Chazelle’s lengthy spot, which could be considered a short film, is significantly longer than the previous two installments.

“In Hennessy X.O’s third odyssey, a musician finds himself swept up in a dream world where time and space melt into a series of memories of the places he’s traveled, people he has loved, and the sounds and emotions of a lifetime,” reads the description from Hennessy.

“Director Damien Chazelle describes the way past, present and future converge in a series of experiences both fleeting and meaningful, and how a single drop of Hennessy X.O — like Proust’s famed madeleine — can conjure enchanting memories. ‘Those in-between small moments that movies will often skip are just as important as the big ones,’ he says. ‘In the end, all lives are extraordinary.'”

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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